Following his alleged indictment in the Panama Papers Leak, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, may have inadvertently attracted global attention to his sprawling business empire. Data from the Panama-based offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca, obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), has revealed that Alhaji Dangote, his relative, Sayyu Dantata, and other of his business allies have over the years used Shell companies domiciled in controversial tax havens in their business deals.
The leaked document exposed the offshore holding of 12 current and former world leaders and revealed how associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $52 billion through banks and shadow companies. It also revealed details of hidden financial dealings of 128 more politicians and public officials around the world, including Nigeria.
But the pace with which the world want to see Dangote’s big fingers burnt may also not come so quickly. The reasons are not far-fetched. Already, there are strong indications from the law enforcement agencies in his native country, Nigeria, insinuating that the tricky and complex nature of offshore and cross border rackets will definitely slow down the investigation and speedy prosecution of suspects of Nigerian extraction, if found culpable in the first place.
In line with its mandate, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), has swiftly moved into top gear in terms of intelligence gathering internally and collating reports from both local and international media as well as the responses from those named in the leak.
In addition, a file on all Nigerians mentioned in the papers who are alleged to be operating offshore accounts in notorious tax haven has been opened by the Federal Government with a view to keeping them on its watch list henceforth.
Moreover, a reliable source within the Nigerian government circle has hinted a correspondent with Punch, one of Nigeria’s topmost daily newspapers, that the Federal Government was studying the body language of the international community and looking at how other countries were handling investigations.
“We are studying the matter closely. In fact, we have opened a file and all reports are being gathered. We want all the names to be released first before launching full investigations. The issue is a tricky one. After preliminary investigations, we will seek advice from the Office of the Attorney General because investigations of such nature will need foreign collaboration,” the source who pleaded anonymity said.
It was also widely believed in some quarters that it is not unexpected for a business mogul of Dangote’s status who spend more hours in the air than on land, travelling all over the world for business expansion plans, to be mentioned in a leaked paper on offshore transactions.
The only issue that is critical, according to that school of thought, is to ensure that proper investigations are conducted in order to verify any trace of culpability on his part or that of his company.
Other high profile Nigerians fingered in the leak include, Nigeria’s Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his predecessor Senator David Mark, a former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retired) and a former governor of oil-rich Delta State who is still serving a jail term in the United Kingdom (UK) for money laundering and other related corruption charges.
Meanwhile, all the Nigerians inplicated in the leaked papers have denied complicity. Although, Alhaji Dangote, ranked as Africa’s richest man by Forbes in 2015 and currently worth an estimated $17.3 billion has not responded in a personal capacity, the spokesperson for Dangote Group, Tony Chiejina, has also absolved the conglomerate from involvement in the alleged shady deals, adding that his organization cannot afford to tarnish its reputation or conduct its business in an unethical manner.
I wish to state categorically that neither Aliko Dangote nor Dangote Industries Ltd, DIL, has any form of relationship with these alleged four off shore companies. The Group has four quoted companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and we cannot afford to tarnish our reputation or conduct our business in an unethical manner given this profile. Our reputation is paramount to us and we are conscious of the downside of it.
On its part, Mossack Fonseca has equally denied any wrongdoings, saying that as a registered agent, it merely helps incorporate companies, and that before agreeing to work with a client in any way, it conducts a thorough due-diligence process, “one that in every case meets and quite often exceeds all relevant local rules, regulations and standards to which we and others are bound”.
Amidst the growing tension, denials, claims and counterclaims in the media, there is a clarion call on the government to take decisive steps through its relevant agencies to ensure that Nigerians, especially current and past high-ranking public officers named in the leaked document, are thoroughly investigated.
Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and a coalition of civil society groups in the country are in the vanguard for the demand for probity and accountability on the part of government officials.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday called on the Code of Conduct Bureau to investigate current and past government officials mentioned in the papers.
The group in a statement issued in Abuja and signed by the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, demanded that the CCB must carry out the investigation within 14 days, adding that anyone found culpable should be sent to the tribunal for prosecution.
The statement warned that if the Bureau failed to investigate the cases, the group would not hesitate to use legal means to compel it to discharge that constitutional responsibility.
“SERAP believes that the Panama Papers have shown the extent to which public officers in the country are concealing their stolen wealth in safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions. This is contrary to the code of conduct for public officers, which prohibits public officers from maintaining and operating foreign accounts.
We request Mr. Sam Saba, Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau to use his good office and leadership to urgently investigate current and immediate past high-ranking public officers named in the Panama Papers. They should also investigate others that are maintaining and operating or have maintained and operated foreign accounts in other safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions, and where appropriate, refer such to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution,” the statement added.