Panama to Paradise, Sirleaf to Saraki, African Leaders Are Always Fingered

“Paradise Papers” a massive leak of more than 13m (financial) files reveals how the ‘high and mighty’ secretly invest vast amounts of cash in offshore companies and a host of offshore tax havens-numbering 19.

This came barely a month after Panama papers scribe Dapne Caruana Galiza  (A Maltese investigative journalist who exposed her island nation’s links to offshore tax havens through the leaked Panama Papers) got killed in Malta car bomb, after she had filed a report with the police of having received threats.

Panama papers is just an iota of what the Paradise Papers has revealed as the ‘rich and powerfuls’ black money trail comes to light in the largest-ever data leak.

The biggest ever financial data leak was obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and probed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with 96 news agencies including the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times, among others before it came to light.

Originating from a Bermuda-based firm, Appleby is the 13.4 million document that reveals how the firm helps its clients (rich people from 180 countries) evade taxes and obscure ownership of assets, with supporting files including bank statements, emails and loan agreements from Appleby. They contain the names of more than 120,000 people and companies.

One of its major highlights includes the revelation that millions of pounds from the private estate of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II have been invested in offshore tax haven funds. Adding that around £10 million ($13 million, EUR11.3 million) of the Queen’s private money was placed in funds held in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The claims suggest the Queen, or accountants acting for the Queen, are hiding tax from her own Treasury. However, it was pointed out that the Queen voluntarily pays tax on any income she receives from the Duchy. “All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate”, according to a spokesman for the Treasury.

Another Mega-Name in the document is United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who is reported to hold stakes in businesses connected to sanctioned Russian oligarchs, which he did not disclose during his confirmation hearings

Other members of the Trump administration who appear in the documents include U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (he ran the Yemen division of ExxonMobil, which had ties to the Bermuda-based offshore firm) and Gary D. Cohn, the director of the U.S. National Economic Council.  In all, more than a dozen of Trump cabinet members, major donors -including Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson- and advisers appear in the documents and are linked with offshore accounts.

Paradise papers documents also revealed that Russian state organizations with ties to Putin pursued large investments in Facebook and Twitter via the intermediary of Russian-American entrepreneur Yuri Milner, a business associate of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

Notable politicians mentioned from Africa include Liberian outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as a director of the Bermuda Company Songhai Financial Holdings Ltd. a subsidiary of Databank’s finance, fund management and investment company Databank Brokerage Ltd., from April 2001 until September 2012.  Also Ghanaian Minister for Finance and Economic Planning Ken Ofori-Atta, was a co-founder of Databank and a co-director, with Johnson Sirleaf, of Songhai Financial Holdings.

President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki is listed in the papers as a director and a shareholder of Tenia Ltd., a company established in the Cayman Islands in April 2001 while he was governor and later member of the Nigerian Senate in violation of his country’s code of conduct law.

Coming only 18 months after a similar investigation revealed his ownership of at least three secret offshore firms which he used in concealing assets abroad, the paradise paper allegation is capable of attracting fresh criminal charges to the politician.

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had reportedly indicted the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and some of his aides in the alleged laundering of up to N3.5 billion from the Paris Club Loan Refund.

In September 2015, an 18 count charge of corruption in false declaration of assets was brought against the Senate President Saraki, by the federal government. The case is in Court of Appeal after the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) had discharged and acquitted the Senate President of all charges in 2017.