PANDORA PAPERS: Inside Governor Dapo Abiodun's secret businesses, foreign account – Premium Times
Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun [PHOTO CREDIT: @dabiodunMFR]
n clear contravention of extant laws, Dapo Abiodun, the executive governor of Ogun State, is director of at least two offshore companies while also operating a foreign account.
An investigation by PREMIUM TIMES and its partners showed that the governor is also the ultimate beneficial owner of the companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
We were also able to determine that he failed to declare the companies and whatever assets they hold in his asset declaration filings with the Code of Conduct Bureau.
The investigation is part of the global International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)-led Pandora Papers project, in which PREMIUM TIMES is a key participant.
The project saw 600 journalists from 150 news organisations around the world poring through a trove of 11.9 million confidential files, contextualising information, tracking down sources and analysing public records and other documents.
The leaked files were retrieved from some offshore services firms around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore entities for clients, many of them influential politicians, businesspersons and criminals, ostensibly in desperate moves to conceal their financial dealings.
The two-year collaboration has so far revealed the financial secrets of not less than 40 current and former world leaders, and more than 330 public officials in more than 91 countries.
The documents reviewed by this newspaper showed that Mr Abiodun is the sole director and beneficial owner of Marlowes Trading Corporation, a company operating under the laws of the British Virgin Island.
The governor equally owns and failed to declare Heyden Petroleum Limited, another BVI company registered offshore.
On deciding to set up an offshore structure in a tax haven and secrecy-enabling jurisdiction, Mr Abiodun hired Dubai-based SFM Corporate Services for advice and execution. SFM Corporate Services specialises in trust and offshore company formation services, offshore bank account opening and related services.
It was SFM Corporate Services that in turn hired Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (alcogal), a Panamanian secrecy seller, to incorporate Marlowes Trading Corporation for Mr Abiodun.
After some back and forth between SFM and Alcogal, the offshore company was incorporated in the British Virgin Island on January 12, 2015, registration documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed.
Mr Abiodun was then appointed sole director and shareholder of the company. The businessman was also issued a share certificate number one.
In March 2015, on the completion of the registration of the company, Alcogal sent copies of the new entity’s documents to SFM Corporate services in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.
The documents include the company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association, certificate of incorporation, evidence of appointment of Mr Abiodun as first director, resolutions of the sole director adopting the company seal and authorising the issuance of shares, Share certificate No. 1 issued in favour of “Mr Adedapo Oluseun Abiodun”, Copies of the Registers of Members and Directors and a rubber seal.
The nature of business Marlowes engages in remains unclear. But it has continued to operate out of the Dubai office of SFM Corporate Services located at The H Dubai-Office Building, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai. The key contact person for the firm is one Samuel Kim Oh.
Apart from Marlowes, documents also show that Mr Abiodun also owns Heyden Petroleum Limited, which shares the name with a Nigerian company he also owns. He established the Nigerian version of Heyden in 2001.
Details of a letter dated March 21, 2016, showed that the governor is the sole beneficial owner of Heyden BVI.
However, in the letter, addressed to SFM Corporate Services, Mr Abiodun notified the firm of his decision to grant one Okechukwu Chikezie Nzelum the authority to “handle exclusively all administrative requests with regard to the Company.”
The governor noted, however, that the said Chikeziem “is not authorised to engage the company commercially.”
PREMIUM TIMES found that neither of the two companies was made public in the asset declaration form by Mr Abiodun upon assumption of office as Ogun State governor in 2019, in clear contravention of the provisions of the constitution.
Section 11 of the fifth schedule of the Nigerian constitution states that subject to the provisions of the constitution, every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of the Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.
In sub-section 2 of the same section, the law states that: “Any statement in such declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorised in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be a breach of this Code.”
It thereafter declared that “any property or assets acquired by a public officer after any declaration required under this Constitution and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift, or loan approved by this Code shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this Code unless the contrary is proved.”
Along with his ownership of BVI companies, documents reviewed by this newspaper showed that Mr Abiodun also runs a Swiss bank account.
Details of the Swiss bank account were seen by this newspaper in a letter forwarded by UBS AG, a Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company, to SFM Corporate Services.
In the letter, dated March 10, 2016, and signed by one Okenna Nzelu, the relationship manager, UBS affirmed that Mr Abiodun had been a client of the bank since September 2014. The bank added that the governor maintains his account “satisfactorily” and had no outstanding debt.
UBS is based in Switzerland and co-headquartered in the cities of Zürich and Basel. The bank maintains a presence in all major financial centres as the largest Swiss banking institution and the largest private bank in the world.
Similarly, an Ikeja Electric bill dated December 2014 was submitted by the governor, ostensibly as part of due diligence requirements for account opening and company registration.
According to Section 7 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, certain public office holders are barred from maintaining foreign accounts.
“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,” the section states.
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was also explicit in its provisions.
In paragraph 3 of the fifth schedule, the constitution states that “the President, Vice-President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of the Governments of the States, members of the National Assembly and of the Houses of Assembly of the States, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.”
For many weeks, Mr Abiodun declined to comment on PREMIUM TIMES’ findings. Messages and emails sent to his numerous emails and phone numbers were not responded to. Messages sent to his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, were also not replied.
An associate of Mr Abiodun however told one of our reporters that the non declaration of the companies and the account was an oversight by the governor.
“The governor has nothing to hide,” said the official who asked not to be named because he is not Mr Abiodun’s official spokesperson. “He has asked the companies to be dissolved because he no longer needs them. He did not know that it had not been done.”
Mr Abiodun, a businessman cum politician, became Ogun governor on May 29, 2019, after several attempts to be elected to political office.
In 1998, Mr Abiodun contested and won the Ogun East Senatorial seat on the platform of the defunct United Nigeria Congress Party. The victory was, however, truncated by political developments in the country.
He later joined the Peoples Democratic Party in 1999 as a founding member on which platform he contested in the primaries for the governorship ticket in Ogun State in 2002 and lost out in the contest.
In 2015, Mr Abiodun threw himself into the Ogun East Senatorial race as the flag-bearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and lost yet again.
In 2018, he contested for and won the governorship ticket of the APC, culminating in his eventual victory in the general elections and emergence as the fifth elected governor of Ogun State.
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All content is Copyrighted © 2020 The Premium Times, Nigeria