Africa: New Global Probe Exposes African Leaders' Secret Offshore Wealth

(file photo).
4 October 2021

Cape Town — A number of African leaders have been named by an international consortium of journalists as secretly owning assets overseas which show some of them to be enormously wealthy compared to the citizens of their own countries.

They include President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, whose family is reported by the Pandora Papers project of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), to hold bank accounts and real estate worth more than $30 million, located in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

AllAfrica's partner publisher in Nigeria, Premium Times, reports that the project has so far revealed the financial secrets of at least 35 current and former world leaders and more than 330 public officials in more than 91 countries and territories.

Premium Times will begin publishing reports in the coming days showing that Nigerian figures including a former Chief Justice and current and former state governors have set up shell companies, sometimes holding "huge financial assets" in tax havens known for their secrecy.

The ICIJ investigations are based on 11.9 million financial records, leaked from 14 offshore enterprises around the world that help the wealthy to set up and manage shell companies and trusts in tax havens.

The ICIJ says shareholders in shell companies have included President Ali Bongo of Gabon - who with two political associates controlled a company in the British Virgin Islands whose existence was not previously disclosed. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, owned a company that controlled diamond mines "that are among the country's most valuable assets," the ICIJ adds.

The Pandora Papers do not always appear to reveal whether leaders are still involved in the shell companies of which they were a part, nor do they necessarily indicate wrongdoing - the project rather highlights ways in which the rich and the powerful are able to keep secret from their compatriots their activities and wealth.

In 1998, Ivorian Prime Minister Patrick Achi, while an adviser to the then minister of energy, became the owner of a company based in the Bahamas, but the records do not state the company's purpose or report any assets. Ambassador Zakaria Idriss Déby Itno, the stepbrother of Chad's interim president and the son of its former president, held shares in a Seychelles company with a cousin and an alleged arms dealer.

The Pandora Papers name two Seychelles-based companies as among those which help set up shell companies. It quotes All About Offshore (AABOL) as saying it assists clients to "create tax-exempt shell companies in less than 24 hours and keeps their information confidential." The other company, Alpha Consulting Limited, is relatively small and three-quarters of its clients are Russian.
  The ICIJ says the Pandora Papers reveal "secret offshore holdings of more than 130 billionaires from 45 countries including 46 Russian oligarchs. In 2021, according to Forbes, 100 of the billionaires had a collective fortune of more than $600 billion. Other clients include bankers, big political donors,  arms dealers, international criminals, pop stars, spy chiefs and sporting giants."

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