How Ex-Governor Obi failed to declare assets kept in tax havens

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Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra state, kept secret assets in tax havens, a series of leaked documents has shown.

The leaked files which were retrieved from 14 offshore services firms around the world were revealed in a Pandora Papers project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and which Premium Times is a part of.

In his response, the former governor told Premium Times: “I don’t declare what is owned with others. If my family owns something I won’t declare it. I didn’t declare anything I jointly owed with anyone.”

In 2010, more than four years after Obi became governor, he reportedly set up his first discreet company in the British Virgin Island, and named the company Gabriella Investments Limited, after his daughter.

To set up what has now become a convoluted business structure, Obi, Premium Times reported first approached Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens noted for providing conduits for wealthy and privileged corrupt political elites to hide stolen cash.

According to the newspaper, Obi also paid Acces International to provide nominee directors for the company — these directors are residents of tax havens paid to sit on boards of companies to hide the identities of real owners of offshore firms.

Acces International officials, who reportedly took briefs from Obi and or his representatives, headed to the British Virgin Island where they contracted a local registered agent – Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal) — to set up Gabriella Investments Limited for the former governor.

“After extensive documentation, Gabriella Investment Limited was born on November 17, 2010, with registration number 1615538. Two figureheads – Antony Janse Van Vuuren and Lance Lawson — were appointed its first directors while ultimate control resided with Mr Obi,” the paper reported.

“On the same day the company was incorporated, the nominee directors met and issued 50,000 shares of Gabriella Investment in favour of Hill International Holding Corporation, a shell International Business Company operating under the laws of Belize, another tax haven. The director of the company is Mr Van Vuuren, also one of the directors of Gabriella Investment.

“It is unclear what businesses Mr Obi transacted with the entities but in some communications, they were sometimes referred to as investment vehicles.”

The former governor was said to have since rearranged his offshore businesses by first renaming Gabriella Investment.

Beginning February 10, 2017, Premium Times reported that the company became known as PMGG Investments Limited in what is a combination of the first letters of the first names of Obi’s nuclear family.

“P for Peter (ex-governor), M for Margaret (the ex-governor’s wife), G for Gabriella (the ex-governor’s daughter) and G for Gregory (the ex-governor’s son),” the report further read.

“Mr Obi has also now created a trust known as The Gabriella Settlement, an entity also registered in the BVI. According to Fidelity Investments, a trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. Experts believe that trusts are traditionally used for minimising taxes even though they can offer other estate plan benefits as well.

“By the current structuring of Mr Obi’s wealth and offshore businesses, The Gabriella Settlement, which appears to hold all or a majority of his assets, is the sole shareholder of PMGG Investments.

“In turn, a New Zealander entity, Granite Trust Company Limited is the sole trustee of The Gabriella Settlement. Sam Access International, the Monaco-based secrecy enabler Mr Obi first hired in 2010 to set up his offshore structure, was until August 23, 2019, the sole shareholder of Granite Trust.”

The paper said based on records obtained from the UK Companies House, Obi continued to be a director of Next International (UK) Limited for 14 months after becoming the governor of Anambra state, thereby breaking Nigeria’s law. Upon becoming a public officer, Section 6 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal act stipulates that such person withdraws from engaging in or directing a private business, except if it is farming.

But Obi was said to have only resigned from the company on May 16, 2008, 14 months after he assumed office as Anambra governor.

Public officers are also required by law to declare their assets upon assumption of office, but Obi claimed he could not have made such a declaration on assets he co-owned with others.

Obi who was vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during the 2019 election, also reportedly said the offshore entity is the holding company for most of his assets and that the business structure he adapted was to enable him to avoid excessive taxation.

“I am sure you too will not like to pay inheritance tax if you can avoid it,” he had told the reporters who interviewed him.

 

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