Pandora Papers: 3 Ways Peter Obi Broke The Law

Breaking the Law: Number 1

In Nigeria, a person is statutorily obligated to withdraw from engaging in or directing a private business, except if it is farming, upon becoming a public officer, Section Six (6) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act stipulates.

However, our investigation, based on records obtained from the UK Companies House shows that Mr Obi continued to be a director of Next International (UK) Limited for 14 months after becoming the governor of Anambra State, thereby breaking Nigeria’s law. The politician resigned from the company on May 16, 2008, 14 months after he assumed duties as Anambra governor. He took office on March 17, 2006.

Mr Obi did not dispute the records PREMIUM TIMES cited but he claimed he “resigned immediately” by handing his wife his resignation letter. He suggested that his company might have failed to effect the changes on time or the UK Companies House did not immediately document his exit. But the UK companies registry said Mr Obi indeed resigned on May 16, 2008, and that it received his notice of resignation for electronic filing on June 16, 2008.

Breaking the law: Number 2

Nigerian public officers are required to declare “immediately after taking office and thereafter all” their properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his (or her) unmarried children under the age of eighteen years,” Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution stipulates (Section 11, Part of the Fifth Schedule).

PREMIUM TIMES investigation also found that Mr Obi breached this constitutional provision on assets declaration. We can authoritatively report that Mr Obi did not declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau the companies he tucked away in offshore secrecy havens.

Mr Obi caused to be created for him a structure of secrecy that had previously, until the Pandora Papers investigation, meant he could continue to hold foreign assets in a way that breaches Nigeria’s law without the knowledge of authorities in the country. In an extra layer of secrecy, Mr Obi used paid nominees as directors, while he remains the ultimate beneficial owner, making it nearly impossible to discover his interests in those companies but we obtained rare incorporation documents proving his link.

Otherwise, Mr Obi could have forever hoped to continue to hold the assets, that he did not declare when he had a statutory obligation to do so as a governor, without any authority or the public calling him to account.

In his response, Mr Obi ridiculously suggested that those offshore companies and assets are jointly owned with his family members and that he was not under obligation to declare companies jointly owned. “I don’t declare what is owned with others,” Mr Obi told PREMIUM TIMES. “If my family owns something I won’t declare it. I didn’t declare anything I jointly owed with anyone.”

This is contrary to the position of the Constitution, which specifies the declaration of all assets, whether jointly or partly owned, PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters told Mr Obi. He said he was not aware of that provision of the law.

Nevertheless, leaked records show Mr Obi is the sole ultimate beneficial owner of the offshore companies. So he did not even jointly own it with anyone.

In that case, Mr Obi has violated Nigeria’s Code of Conduct law and, if authorities decide to act appropriately, he could be arraigned before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special court that tries public officers for any contravention of the Code of Conduct for Nigerian public officers as spelt out in the Fifth Schedule of the Nigerian constitution.

The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) were established to enforce “a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business, and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.”

Breaking the law: Number 3

The former governor could be charged with failing to declare his offshore holdings and their associated assets and operating foreign accounts while being a public officer.

The Nigerian constitution and the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act forbid a public officer from maintaining or operating a bank account outside Nigeria. However, as a governor, Mr. Obi continued to operate and maintain foreign accounts, including with Lloyds TSB.

Mr. Obi told PREMIUM TIMES that he received the advice to create an offshore structure from Lloyds TSB, which then introduced him to intermediaries who helped him to set up com where he continued to operate a foreign account as a governor.

The offences violate sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.

Asked if he is concerned that Nigerians would be disappointed at him following our finding of his opaque and lawless dealings as a governor, Mr Obi said was more concerned about his UK school alumni network, his business, foreign creditors. He insisted that he served well as Anambra governor and Nigerians already have their opinions about him.

The former governor could be charged for failing to declare the company and its associated assets and perhaps operating foreign accounts while being a public officer.

Mr Obi told PREMIUM TIMES that he received the advice to create an offshore structure from Lloyds where he continued to operate a foreign account as a governor.

The offences violate sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.

Shunning opportunity to declare assets, pay taxes
In June 2017, the federal government launched the Voluntary Assets and Income Disclosure Scheme (VAIDS), an initiative seeking voluntary disclosure of previously undeclared assets and income with a view to paying all outstanding liabilities. The VAIDS offered a nine-month window and incentives that included immunity from prosecution for tax evasion and undeclared assets, which would have benefited people like Mr Obi.

A key objective of the VAIDS was curbing illicit financial flows and tax evasion, which commonly feature the use of offshore holdings to shift taxes from where they are earned to havens where little or no taxes are paid.

The government in 2017 said defaulting individuals and corporate bodies who failed to take advantage of the VAIDS would be subject to criminal prosecution.

A number of Nigerian public officials with previously undeclared assets tucked away overseas participated in the VAIDS and got clearance certificates. Mr. Obi shunned the scheme and continued with his opaque business dealings in breach of the law.

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