Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, who allegedly aided former military ruler, General Sani Abacha, amass billions in stolen funds, was represented by an elite London solicitors’ firm serving Queen Elizabeth II throughout her reign, the Pandora Papers have revealed, Thecitypulsenews gathers.
Recall that Pandora Papers, unveiled on Sunday October 3, comprises almost 12 million leaked documents.
The documents shines the light on tax avoidance via secret offshore companies by some of the world’s elite; including politicians, technocrats and business people in various countries including Nigeria. The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) working in collaboration with more than 140 media organisations.
It has emerged that Farrer & Co, a London-based law firm; which boasts a long history of representing members of the royal family; had Bagudu as its client after he was accused by US prosecutors of corruption, The UK Guardian reports.
‘‘While there’s no indication of wrongdoing or breaking the law, Farrer & Co finds itself in the crosshairs following the bombshell revelations laid bare by the so-called Pandora Papers,’’ the medium reveals.
Farrer & Co’s legal representation of the Kebbi Governor, Bagudu over the years, came to light after the ICIJ published the dossier of more than 11.9 million leaked financial documents.
Bagudu has accused by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) of playing an instrumental role in a corruption scheme; one which resulted in the plundering of billions of dollars from Nigeria’s cofers. However, the embattled governor has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The report reveals that after Abacha passed on in mysterious circumstances in 1998; Nigeria’s new government accused him of having overseen a conspiracy to steal billions of state funds. Transparency International held that Abacha was estimated to have stolen as much as $5 billion of public money.
Nevertheless, Abacha was never charged with corruption during his lifetime. After his death, the Nigerian government had been focused on recovering the looted funds. Subsequently, the looted funds were traced to accounts in Paris and London via a chain of front companies. Bagudu, an associate of Abacha, in 1999 confessed to a Nigerian court that he had received funds from the deceased dictator.
In 2003, after a court-approved settlement, Bagudu agreed to return about $300 million of his fortune; albeit without admitting any wrongdoing.
According to the Pandora Papers, Farrer & Co started acting for Bagudu in February 2010. The firm allegedly aided Bagudu and his brother in transferring the ownership of €98 million (£113 million) from a British Virgin Islands (BVI) trust to a jurisdiction in Singapore and the Cook Islands called the Blue Group.
According to the leaked documents, the solicitors engaged the services of a trust company in Singapore – Asiaciti – to administer the newly-created group. Farrer & Co subsequently continued to be involved in managing the trusts. The law firm was cited by The Guardian as having conducted “extensive due diligence” on Bagudu and the result reportedly met the firm’s “legal and regulatory obligations.”
The Pandora Papers revealed that in April 2010; Farrer & Co sought a response from another firm representing Bagudu regarding their mutual client’s source of offshore wealth. At the time, the firm acknowledged that Bagudu had faced embezzlement charges in line with a criminal investigation; which had seen him being arrested and detained in the US for six months.
However, Farrer & Co was also given assurances that Bagudu had reached a settlement with the Nigerian government. In line with it, he was granted the right to retain funds held in the BVI trust.
Also, in August 2010, Farrer & Co is revealed to have submitted a suspicious activity report (SAR) to the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). It sought consent to have assets held by Bagudu’s trust in the BVI transferred to the new Blue Group structure.
After a detailed precautionary report of the transaction including the assets and their whereabouts; the consent was granted. Thereafter, €98 million of cash and securities was transferred to the Blue Group. It was then that some of the funds were directly channeled to Bagudu, The Guardian disclosed.
Despite an internal memo written by the head of Asiaciti, its trust firm, which acknowledged the “somewhat controversial background” of Bagudu, he was still retained as a client. Farrer & Co and Asiaciti found themselves in a controversial position over their client in 2014 after the DoJ alleged that the Nigerian had helped General Abacha to launder the proceeds of the conspiracy via fake companies.
“The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions of dollars from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through US financial institutions and the purchase of bonds backed by the United States,” reads a DoJ statement.
Soon after, UK authorities assisted US prosecutors in obtaining a court order freezing Bagudu’s assets in the country; estimated to be worth €107 million in investments. According to the Pandora Papers, as Farrer & Co represented Bagudu, the relationship generated revenues for Asiaciti estimated to be worth almost $80,000 (£60,000) in fees between 2017 and 2018.
Meanwhile, Farrer & Co have reportedly dismissed any criticism for maintaining Bagudu as a client. They emphasised they never tried to conceal Bagudu’s assets; adding that they had received consent from British authorities before transferring control of them to the new trusts.
Further, they added that the UK authorities were aware of the whereabouts of their client’s assets.