Panama Papers: The Tale of A Legislative Head, Damning the Law

Caricature of Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate. Credits: Joshua Olufemi

Investigative reporting of corruption in Nigeria before Panama Papers appears to have given prominence to public procurement scandals majorly perpetrated by the executive arms of government. 

Written by Joshua Olufemi* (photograph on the right)

At many instances of such scandals, the media and civil society communities had looked to the legislative arm of government to intervene and probe these scandals.

A great turn occurred with the Panama Papers investigations in Nigeria which inadvertently unearthed how legislative officers were part of other forms of corruption - tax evasion and asset recovery fraud. An outstanding name in Nigeria in the Panama Papers investigations was Bukola Saraki, the President of the Senate. Four assets in secret offshore territories, belonging to the Saraki family were uncovered in the investigations. Saraki violated the asset declaration law because he failed to declare these assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as required by Nigerian laws.

The hidden assets

PREMIUM TIMES authoritative report uncovered a hidden London property in the name of Toyin Saraki but which was left out among the assets declared by the Senate President. The hidden property is located at #8 Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ. It has title number NGL802235. Apart from the undeclared London property, three additional overseas assets in the name of the wife of the Senate President were hidden from the authorities and are missing from the assets declaration form. Mrs. Saraki.

The first of the secret companies in these notorious tax havens, Girol Properties Ltd, was registered on August 25, 2004 (a year after Mrs. Saraki’s husband became governor of Nigeria’s north-central state of Kwara) in the British Virgin Island (BVI).

The second company, Sandon Development Limited, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011 and has Mrs. Saraki and one Babatunde Morakinyo, (a long-term personal aide and friend of Mr. Saraki) of 11 Okeme Street, Lagos, as shareholders. While incorporating that company, documents show, Mrs. Saraki bought a curious service from Mossack Fonseca & Co, the Panamanian firm that helped her to register the firm.

The third hidden company in the name of Mrs. Saraki is Landfield International Developments Ltd., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands on April 8, 2014.

According to Mossack Fonseca, the registered agent of the company, Mrs. Saraki, at least until January 27, 2015, was sole shareholder and beneficial owner of the company which had two nominee directors – Glaisd Alie Limited and NewGombe Limited – both appointed on September 2, 2014.

A troubled husband

In a written response to ICIJ, the Senate President insisted, through his UK lawyers, that he “declared his assets properly in accordance with the relevant legislation,” and that the charges against him “are both unfounded and politically motivated.” But this fresh revelation regarding hidden assets in tax havens might fuel the allegations against Nigeria’s third most powerful official and strengthen the prosecution’s case against the politician.

My Reporter’s Experience

Trailing how the Senate Leader erred was not an easy fry. Searching through a trove of database was such that requires basic data journalism skills of sorting and filtering to connect the dots among thousands of emails, text, images and audio files. Having connected the dots, getting the Senate President to respond was difficult and such that needed to happen before going to press. Even though replies never came, the story went anyways. The story was followed by verbal threat from the media aides. 


* This article was written by Joshua Olufemi and is part of a project "It happens overnight" funded by Fritt Ord