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Friday, 8 April 2016

#PanamaPapers: Falana wants public officials with foreign accounts tried

#PanamaPapers: Falana wants public officials with foreign accounts tried

Femi Falana

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), on Thursday called for the prosecution of Nigerian public officers who are found to be holding foreign accounts in Panama.

Falana said in a chat with one of our correspondents on Thursday that while private citizens named in the leak could be exempted, public officers among them were liable for prosecution.

He said, “Private persons are not prohibited from keeping accounts wherever they like. However public officers have always been barred by the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Trubunal Act from operating foreign accounts in any manner whatsoever.

“To that extent, former and serving public officers whose accounts have been published in the Panama Papers are liable to be prosecuted if they had failed to declare them in their asset declaration forms.

“Secondly, the onus is on them to prove that any funds in such accounts emanated from their legitimate income.”

However, a former Senate President, David Mark, who had been linked with the offshore assets scam had denied any link to the firms that were  indicted in the report published in the Panama Papers.

He has therefore threatened legal actions against media organisations that published stories that linked him to the scam. He argued that Mark had not contravened any laws of the land in that respect.

The  Media Assistant to the erstwhile Senate President, Mr. Paul Mumeh, who stated this in a statement issued in Abuja, explained that a thorough scrutiny of the document showed that Mark’s name was not mentioned in the report.

Meanwhile, Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; and his cousin, Sayu Dantata, have been named among prominent people who operate shell accounts in tax havens.

Some of the companies linked to Dangote include Paseo Trading Limited, Seychelles; Petrowest S.A., Seychelles; SID Holdings Corp, Panama; and Chalmers Shipping Inc, Panama.

According to internal data of the Panama-based offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca, obtained by the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with Premium Times and over 100 other media partners in 82 countries, Dangote and Dantata, as well as his business allies have over the years used shell companies domiciled in controversial tax havens in their business transactions.

There was no evidence, however, that Dangote or Dantata had evaded tax or were using the accounts for illicit activity.

According to documents sighted by Premium Times, Dangote is one of the most prominent clients of Mossack Fonseca, and in Panama alone, based on company registration addresses provided by shareholders, 13 shell companies registered by the firm are directly linked to persons and companies who in turn are linked to the billionaire and his allies.

Dangote and Dantata, the founder of MRS Holdings bought equal shares of 12,500 each from OVLAS S.A, a shell company registered in Seychelles, a tax haven, on October 6, 2003.

On the same date also, a company they both own as at 2003, MRS Oil and Gas Co. Limited bought 25,000 numbers of shares from OVLAS S.A.

According to the documents, three years after they exited as shareholders of the company, Dangote, Dantata and M.R.S Oil and Gas Company Limited ceased to be shareholders in the company. That was on April 12, 2006.

But in an arrangement that seems curious, Dangote was issued a higher amount of shares, 250,000, on the same day he resigned.

In the same manner, Dantata, was issued the same amount of 250,000 shares. That means the businessmen might have simply resold the shares back to themselves. Their company, MRS Oil and Gas, was re-issued 500,000 shares.

When contacted, however, the spokesman for the Dangote Group, Tony Chiejina, told The PUNCH that Dangote never had any relationship with the offshore entities.

Chiejina said, “I wish to state categorically that neither Aliko Dangote nor Dangote Industries Ltd. has any form of relationship with these alleged four offshore companies. The group has four quoted companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and we cannot afford to tarnish our reputation or conduct our business in an unethical manner given this profile.

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