- Lawyer hired by Nigeria to track Abacha’s loot has 178 firms in tax havens
Zacheaus Somorin with agency reports
Nigerian public officers named in the #PanamaPapers leak could face prosecution if the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice decides to press a case.
This came as news emerged yesterday that a Swiss attorney, Enrico Monfrini, hired by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to track missing Abacha loot in Swiss banks is himself operating over 178 companies in offshore tax havens, a massive leak of secret documents belonging to offshore shell companies has revealed.
The leak of more than 11 million secret documents from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, according to an online news portal, TheCable, is causing ripples globally.
Ethical and criminal questions are being asked about the stashing away of billions of dollars in tax havens.
Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Iceland Prime Minister, has resigned over the leaks which exposed his offshore assets.
Nigerians named so far — with more to come — are Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor David Mark (pictured), former minister of defence Theophilus Danjuma, and former governor of Delta state James Ibori.
Femi Falana said there is no protection for any Nigerian public officer, serving or retired, when it comes to offshore investments.
“It is not a crime to move your wealth to tax havens, we must be clear on that,” he said.
“However, Nigerian public officers named in the leaked papers will have a lot of explaining to do.
“One, they have to justify the assets traced to them in these offshore investments. Did they earn the money legitimately? Two, did they declare those assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau when in public office as required by the law? The Code of Conduct Act came into operation in the 1980s, so it is not a recent law.”
Falana said under the law, there is neither statute of limitation nor exemption for any public officer.
“The issue of trusteeship or blind trust does not arise because it is not known to the code of conduct law. The law also makes it clear that you cannot operate a foreign account,” he said.
Presidency sources said the attorney-general would consider the next line of action as more facts emerge.
“For now, no government official is going to comment because it is too early in the day,” the official said, but said prosecution is a “possibility”.
Those named so far held public offices at different times.
Saraki, who is currently facing trial over charges of false asset declaration, was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.
Ibori was Governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007, while Danjuma was Chief of Army Staff from 1976 to 1979 as well as Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2003.
Mark was military Governor of Niger State (1985-1988), Minister of Communications and Senate President (2007-2015).
Meanwhile, news has emerged that a Swiss attorney, Enrico Monfrini, hired by Nigeria to track missing Abacha loot in Swiss banks is himself operating over 178 companies in offshore tax havens, a massive leak of secret documents belonging to offshore shell companies has revealed.
Monfrini was hired in 2000 by the then new civilian government of the country to help establish the existence of and repatriate over $4 billion allegedly looted by former military dictator, Sani Abacha.
The documents showed that Monfrini, an influential legal practitioner in Switzerland, is the director of 178 companies scattered around Panama and the British Virgin Island.
Although the documents did not directly implicate Monfrini as having committed any crime, still, the revelation points to the hypocrisy of a man widely revered for his remarkable ability to dismantle tax evaders and looters across jurisdictions.
Monfrini is a founding partner of Monfrini Crettol & Associates, one of the most recognised legal services providers in Switzerland.
According to an online newspaper, Premium Times, in 2000, Obasanjo hired Monfrini’s firm to help recover Abacha loot, which was estimated to be more than $4 billion at the time.
According to Obasanjo, Monfrini helped the Nigerian government secure the release of N267 billion–$1.34 billion.
As at December 2010, Mr. Monfrini was the director of the following offshore companies in tax havens: Director of 17 PMA (Panama) company in ACT status.
Director of 3 BVI company (British Virgin Island) in ACT status. Director of 1 PMA company in CAR status (to others) Director of 38 PMA company in DIS status. Director of 1 BVI in DIS status. Director of 44 PMA company in INA status.
Director of 65 PMA company in MOR status. Director of 6 BVI company in MOR status. Director of 3 PMA company in REN status.
Monfrini could not be reached to comment for this story. His secretary, who gave her name simply as Beatrice, said during a telephone conversation that her principal was “on a trip outside of Switzerland.” Monfrini didn’t reply e-mail seeking comment.