Senate President implicated in Paradise Papers scandal, could face criminal charges
Senate President Bukola Saraki has been implicated in another tax evasion scandal as his name showed up in the leaked global list of world leaders who used shell companies in tax havens to either conceal assets, evade tax, or launder funds.
According to AFP, the files that were leaked on Sunday, November 5, 2017, already dubbed Paradise Papers, contain 13.4 million documents mainly from Appleby, an offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond.
The files were first obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with theInternational Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and partner media outlets.
According to a report by Premium Times, the Senate President was found to have sat on the board of Tenia Limited, an offshore company located in the Cayman Islands that he set up and ran as director and sole shareholder from 2001 until at least 2015, a duration that spanned his tenure as Kwara State governor and member of the upper legislative chamber.
Even though the specifics of the transactions of the offshore company is unknown, the Senate President’s administration of the firm is a violation of Nigeria’s code of conduct law as he failed to list it in his assets declaration filings when he was elected governor as well as member of the Senate in the stated period.
The omission of the firm in his filings constitute a defiance of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, and is capable of attracting criminal charges.
The code of conduct law requires a public office holder to declare own assets, as well as those owned by their spouses and children below the age of 18.
According to Premium Times, when he declared his assets in 2003, Saraki listed European and American Trading Company, Tyberry Corporation, Eficaz Ltd., Gensoft, All Africa Media Company, Merrill HHB Fund, Mundernet Fund and Izorch Incorporated as the only eight companies he held substantial or ordinary stockholdings outside Nigeria.
While the Senate President’s legal representative, Andrew Stephenson, confirmed that he owned Tenia Ltd., he also argued that there was no wrongdoing involved.
“There’s nothing unlawful in the ownership of offshore companies. We are instructed that Tenia Ltd. has never held any assets, nor has it ever traded or conducted any other business, nor does it have anything to do with the tribunal proceedings in Nigeria,” he told ICIJ.
Along with at least 100 other Nigerians, Saraki had also been exposed in the tax-evasion scandal of the infamous Panama Papers involving 11.5 million documents leaked in April 2016.
The investigation exposed his ownership of at least three secret offshore firms which he used in concealing assets abroad.
One of the firms, Girol Properties Ltd., was registered in the British Virgin Island (BVI) on August 25, 2004, only a year after he became governor.
Another one, Sandon Development Limited, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011, with his wife, Mrs. Toyin Saraki and his personal aide, Babatunde Morakinyo, listed as shareholders, while the third hidden company in the name of Mrs. Saraki is Landfield International Developments Ltd., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands on April 8, 2014.
The involvement of the Senate President in the new Paradise Papers scandal should come as no surprise as he’s been under suspicion for hiding assets.
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Even though he was cleared of a 13-count charge over suspicious false and anticipatory declaration of assets in 2017, the case has been challenged in the Court of Appeal, according to the Federal Government.