Panama Papers and the Pandora Box

An event happened during the week that will ensure that the world never remains the same again. I do refer to some apocalyptic contrivance about to be lifted from the creative scripts of Hollywood or the epic episodes of Nollywood. I speak rather, of a seismic shift in the balance of power in the world-wide web of corporatism; that intricate conspiratorial network of big business and politicians built on a scaffold of oppressive deceit and sustained by a global fraternal glue of secret crimes. Now the bubble is busted and the once princely Pandora’s Box has become a pox of wounded reputations oozing odoriferous air of huge embarrassment for men of timber and calibre across the globe. And because the scale of what has happened is yet to be fully determined, the casualties are yet unfolding. But already, scores of billionaires, politicians, and even sports celebrities in different climes are already headed for the guillotine of public opprobrium.

Welcome to the unnerving reality show of the Panama Papers: arguably the world’s largest data heist executed by a coterie of cross-country investigative journalists. From Moscow to Iceland; Abuja to Accra; Malaysia to London, the stunning revelations from the leak have sent persons of high-calibre in different world capitals scampering in search of cover and alibi. Those not bold enough to make excuses have been forced to eat the humble pie. An example is Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, who was accused of concealing millions of dollars of his family’s assets. He became a major casualty of the leaks by bowing to a wave of public protests in his country when he announced his stepping aside from office pending confirmation of the allegations or otherwise. Others like Russian President, Vladimir Putin; former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair; Kojo, son of former Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Anan; and recently elected president of the graft-burdened Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), Mr. Gianni Infantino are putting up spirited defences of their alleged involvement in a global scheme of sleaze, tax evasion, and other financial crimes.
The massive data leaks sourced from Panama-based offshore services provider, Mossack Fonseca by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung in collaboration with about 100 other media organizations around the world under the auspices of the International Consortium of Investigation Journalists (ICIJ). The Panama Papers seems to have made Julian Assange’s Wikileaks a forerunner of what is to come. As the author of the world’s greatest data heist at that time, Assange’s Wikileaks venture (or misadventure) made him both a hero and villain at the same time. But the Panama Papers have many authors; many unsung heroes (or villains) whom may not all be named on a list of history’s heists makers. Thus while Assange and his inspired offspring and America’s nemesis- Edward Snowden- may be holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and an asylum flat in Moscow respectively, the purveyors of the Panama Papers may just be working next to you in that corner space, sniffing through sheets of dirty data, said to contain some 11.5 million files in all. The flanks of the world’s most powerful individuals in politics and business have exposed by nosy reporters motivated either by altruism or professional adventurism.

So far, some top Nigerian politicians have been named in the Panama Papers, prominent among which is embattled Senate President, Bukola Saraki who is currently facing trial over alleged false declaration of assets and money laundering. The senator’s wife, Toyin Saraki, was said to own businesses and estates in the British Virgin Island and the Seychelles which were not declared in the assets declaration forms of her husband as required by law. The offshore properties, Girol Properties Limited, Sandon Development Limited and Landfield International Developments Limited were said to have been acquired between 2004 and 2011 when Senator Saraki was governor of Kwara State. According to the Premium Times report, “documents showed that Sandon Development Limited was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011, with Mrs. Saraki and one Babatunde Morakinyo, (her husband’s long-term personal aide and friend) as shareholders.”

The story was quickly denied by Saraki in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu. While stressing that the senate president did not breach Nigeria’s laws on assets declaration, the statement claimed that the properties linked to his wife actually belonged to her own family and not Toyin as a person. “The property in question forms part of Dr. Saraki’s wife’s family asset. It is public knowledge that Mrs. Saraki comes from a family of independent means and wealth with numerous and varied assets acquired over decades in family estates and investments,” the statement said. The media release further noted that “the law only requires a public officer to declare both his own assets and those held by his spouse and his children under 18 years of age. The law does not require a public officer to declare assets held by the spouse’s family. It is not expected by the law that a public officer should declare such assets held in the spouse’s family estate. Indeed, the Code of Conduct form does not make provision for declaration of spouse’s family assets.”

But the claims in the press statement appeared to have been contradicted by a follow-up story by Premium Times which quoted Toyin Saraki’s lawyers as affirming that the assets in question belonged solely to her and not a family estate as contained in her husband’s media statement. “Our client is the sole shareholder in Sandon Development Limited. There are not and have never been any other shareholders in Sandon Developments Limited,” London-based Harbottle & Lewis law firm reportedly stated in a response to enquiries by the ICIJ in a letter dated March 19, 2016. According to the report, the law firm also confirmed that Mrs. Saraki was the “sole shareholder of Landfield International Developments Limited from incorporation until January 2015,” when she transferred her shares to a third party. There is every possibility that the Panama leaks will worsen matters for Saraki as he battles a string of mind-boggling revelations spewing forth from the testimonies of prosecution witnesses in his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
But it is not only Saraki that has been named in the Panama leaks so far. The senate president’s predecessor in office, David Mark has been identified as one of those with questions to answer in the Panama affair. A Premium Times story during the week reported that the former Military General was linked to some eight offshore shell companies whilst he held public office, a contravention of the laws of the land. The report lists the companies said to have been registered in the British Virgin Islands as follows: Sikera Overseas S.A; Colsan Enterprises Limited; Goldwin Transworld Limited; Hartland Estates Limited; Marlin Holdings Limited; Medley Holdings Limited; Quetta Properties Limited; and Centenary Holdings Limited.

Retired General Theophilus Danjuma, one of Nigeria’s richest oil czars has also been named in the leaks. “The retired general is a long time user of offshore entities, and the Mossac Fonseca files has now exposed another of his companies – Eastcoast Investments Inc – which he incorporated in Nassau, in the Bahamas, on March 25, 1997,”the story goes.
Whilst more top Nigerians are believed to have been involved in the shady schemes of the Panama files and would be exposed with the passage of time, a definite summation that can be reached from the whole global affair is that the luxurious world of the rich and famous is never cleaner than the scabby lives lived by criminals of lowly estate. It is just perhaps a matter of perception packaged in deceitful grandeur but devoid of true honour beyond the shiny façade. It is a familiar storyline of the rise and fall of great men, famous families, expansive empires, and starry societies. As it was in the beginning so it is now and forever shall be. Till the day of Armageddon.
 
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