Home / Featured / CBN Gov. Emefiele illegally operates secret companies in tax havens

CBN Gov. Emefiele illegally operates secret companies in tax havens

*EFCC, ICPC blind to these allegations?

*Breached laws of the land, should face trial

Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, has stakes in, at least, three companies in offshore tax havens. This is a fact. By his own admission, he is illegally connected to, at least, one of them until July 2017, while also holding on to his top CBN job.

Godwin Emefiele partly owns Vitesse Asset Management SA, incorporated in Switzerland in 2007; Oviation Asset Management Limited, a Bermuda company established in 2009; and Oviation Limited, an Isle of Man company incorporated in 2012, a review of data obtained by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and ICIJ from two offshore secrecy providers (Appleby and Asiaciti Trust) and 19 secrecy jurisdictions showed.

Godwin Emefiele...shows his unclean hands
Godwin Emefiele…shows his unclean hands

The leaked 1.4 terabyte data, now infamously dubbed Paradise Papers, contains 13.4 million records and is no doubt one of the biggest leaks in history.

For 12 months, more than 380 journalists from 96 media organisations in 67 countries pored over the gigantic data, which cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 to 2016.

More than 120 politicians and country leaders, in nearly 50 countries as well as hundreds of business people across the world were identified in the record as users of offshore entities.

The data shows that the CBN governor jointly owns the identified shell companies with Zenith Bank Chairman, Jim Ovia, who was his (Emefiele’s) boss at Zenith and with whom he appears to maintain close business ties.

Emefiele worked as deputy to Jim Ovia when the latter served as Managing Director at Zenith Bank. He was promoted Managing Director of that bank on 1st August, 2010 when Jim Ovia moved up as chairman. Emefiele eventually became CBN governor on 3rd June, 2014.

President Muhammadu Buhari...is Godwin Emefiele above the law?
President Muhammadu Buhari…is Godwin Emefiele above the law?

Documents show that the CBN governor and Mr. Ovia each held 50,000 bearer shares in Vitesse Asset Management, which in turn owns 100 percent of the shares in Oviation Limited.

Emefiele held 49 percent of the shares in Oviation Asset Management Limited while his ally and former boss, Jim Ovia, owns the majority 51 percent stake.

Records indicate the shell companies were simply formed to trade in luxury jets and move funds around in manners that suggested tax avoidance schemes.

The shelf companies have no offices of fixed address, staff, computers or even telephone lines in the countries they are based. They were seen either shuffling assets among themselves or loaning millions of dollars to each other in a cyclical manner.

Although, the use of shell companies is not illegal and there are individuals and firms who incorporate them for purely legitimate purposes; yet, many who operate them do so to avoid or evade tax, hide Ponzi schemes, launder funds, run predatory lending scams, and myriad illicit finance.

For instance, in early 2013, Emefiele’s Oviation Limited opened a bank account with UBS in London. Shortly afterwards, that account was used to receive the proceeds of the sale of an $11.5million Challenger 300 private jet which had previously been owned by another company belonging to the two bankers – Oviation Asset Management Limited.

Jim Ovia...serially linked to all manners of schemes
Jim Ovia…serially linked to all manners of schemes

Oviation Asset Management Limited had two years earlier, in July 2011, bought the same jet for $12,755,000 from Churchill Finances Twenty Six Limited/Ovlas SA, another offshore company owned by Sayyu Dantata, the founder of MRS Oil Nigeria Plc.

But when, two years later, Oviation Asset sold the jet to a sister company, owned by the same shareholders (Oviation Limited), it claimed a loss of about $1.3million.

One of those who helped facilitate the 2011 purchase deal, Daniel Cowdy of London-based law firm, Thomas Eggar LLP, claimed in a 17th March, 2011 email to Appleby that the sale would not involve the payment of cash.

“This is a straightforward equity purchase with no funds being borrowed and will therefore more than likely be accounted for by way of a shareholder loan,” Mr. Cowdy said in his email.

Sayyu Dantata MRS Oil chairman...also named
Sayyu Dantata MRS Oil chairman…also named

Yet, on 1st July, 2011, Sayyu Dantata’s Churchill Finances/Ovlas sent Oviation Asset Management an invoice demanding payment of $12,755,000 within 14 days, in what experts believe deepened suspicion about artificiality of the transaction.

Is Zenith Bank and Jim Ovia the same? In April 2014, a curious, $9.4 million transfer was made by Oviation Asset Management Limited to an account in the name of Zenith Bank Plc.

Responding to an inquiry by the Guardian UK, Emefiele said the transfer related to the proceeds of the sale of the Challenger 300 aircraft.

He said Zenith Bank received the funds on behalf of Jim Ovia through its account in Citibank and that the money was ultimately passed to the Zenith Bank chairman. It remains unclear why the funds were not passed directly to Jim Ovia especially because Zenith Bank does not own the company that sold the jet.

Just another dirty scandal: Also in January 2013, Oviation Limited acquired a $33million Gulfstream 450 jet using a loan from Vitesse Asset Management SA – another company owned by the two men.

On 14th September 2015, Oviation Asset Management Limited transferred about $3.9million to UBS AG Account 54648101 in London claiming to be repaying a loan it took from Oviation Limited.

That was not all. In November 2015, another of their companies, Oviation Asset Management Limited, also acquired a $51million G550 jet, with registration number M-MNDG, and imported it into the Isle of Man where Oviation Limited is domiciled. Oviation Limited claims it continues to lease this aircraft; the island’s aircraft registry shows.

Lawlessness...where rules are no more sacrosanct. Anti-corruption agencies sleeping
Lawlessness…where rules are no more sacrosanct. Anti-corruption agencies sleeping

Violating Nigerian laws: According to available documents, Godwin Emefiele, is in clear violation of Nigerian law. He remained the director of Oviation Asset Management Limited until July 2017, more than two years after he assumed duties as CBN governor.

There is also no evidence that the central banker stepped down from Oviation Limited and Vitesse Asset Management SA, although he claimed he did so.

Yet, Godwin Emefiele did not disclose his interests in these companies and their associated foreign bank accounts in the asset declaration form he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau prior to taking office.

Under Nigerian laws, public office holders must declare their assets while taking and leaving their positions, although those records are never made public.

Section 6(b) of the Code of Conduct and Tribunal Act says: “A public officer shall not except where he is not employed on full-time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade; but nothing in this paragraph shall prevent a public officer from engaging in farming or participating in the management or running of any farm.

Section 7 of the law clearly prohibits officials such as the CBN governor from operating foreign accounts. The section says: “Any public officer specified in the Second Schedule to this Act or any other persons as the President may, from time to time, by order prescribe, shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.”

That law also forbids public officials from putting themselves in a position where their personal interests conflict with their duties and responsibilities.

Yet Godwin Emefiele continued to maintain business and financial ties with Jim Ovia, the chairman of one of the banks the CBN regulates, in what is clearly a conflict of interest.

CCB admits Emefiele has a prima facie case to answer: Officials at the Code of Conduct Bureau in a careful review agreed that Godwin Emefiele’s directorship of OAML for years after he took public office is clearly a breach of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct law which forbids public officials from running private companies and foreign accounts while in office.

They argued that his claim that he did not know that relevant paperworks were not completed in his case might not be an enough shield from prosecution.

So, why are the anti-corruption agencies facing outside: Since these facts became public, why did the Muhammadu Buhari administration keep him as CBN Governor? Why has none of the two anti-corruption agencies moved to investigate and prosecute him and Jim Ovia?

Sources in one of the anti-corruption agencies assert with authority and evidence that a key actor in the current fraud, Sayyu Dantata, is the right hand man of one of the Tzars of the agency. So, there is no way that he will take his business partner and friend to be docked.

It was Zenith Bank that failed to help me, Emefiele reacts: In his response to an enquiry sent to him by The Guardian UK, Godwin Emefiele claimed he took steps to resign his directorship of Oviation Asset Management Limited (OAML) and transfer his shares in the other companies to Zenith Bank before assuming duties as CBN governor in June 2014.

“Before our client departed from the Bank on 31st May 2014, he signed and left in the custody of the Bank all of the necessary paperwork so as to enable the Bank to transfer his minority shareholding in OAML ,” Emefiele said in a 12th October letter by his London-based lawyers, New Media Law LLP.

“Our client now understands that due to an administrative oversight the actual transfer did not take place until sometime after his appointment. We have seen a copy of the members register of OAML obtained in July 2017 which confirms that the share transfer has been completed.”

A lie not properly weaved: It is unclear why the CBN governor would ask Zenith to help him transfer his shareholdings when the bank does not own the companies and has no stake in them, according to documents seen by this newspaper.

Like we asked above, when does Zenith Bank become the same with its outgoing or outgone Managing Director? This lie was weaved but improperly done. The dead was buried but the leg was mistakenly exposed. It requires another lie to cover the last lie.

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