The recent leak of millions of confidential documents dubbed “Panama Papers” has left influential personalities around the world anxious and embarrassed, and Africa is not exempt. At least 11.5 million confidential documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca reveal how powerful individuals, including 143 politicians – 12 of whom are national leaders – have been using offshore bank accounts to evade taxes and sanctions.
The documents obtained by Suddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists are considered the biggest data leak in history. A number of influential African personalities have been implicated in the exposé.
Khulubuse Zuma: South African President Jacob Zuma’s Nephew
According to the Panama Papers, South African President Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma is a representative of an offshore company, Caprikat Limited, which acquired oilfields in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with another offshore company in a $6.8 million deal in 2010. The company is registered in the British Virgin Islands, which is a key offshore sanctuary for tax evaders.
This comes at a time when President Zuma is himself battling serious allegations of corruption, with members of South Africa’s parliament threatening to impeach him. Accused of using millions of public funds to renovate his presidential palace, President Zuma has since offered an apology and promised to abide by the court ruling requiring him to pay back the $16 million spent in the renovation. However, he has contested calls for him to step down.
Kalpana Rawal: Kenya’s Deputy Chief Justice
Panama documents have revealed Justice Kalpana Rawal was actively involved with offshore companies registered in Virgin Islands; she was an active director and shareholder of four shell companies by the time she was appointed as Kenya’s Deputy Chief Justice.
Back in Kenya, Justice Rawal is embroiled in a court battle in which she is challenging a constitutional clause requiring her to retire, as she has attained the stipulated retirement age of 70 years. She, however, argues that she was appointed under the old constitution which required judges to retire at 74 years.
James Ibori: Nigerian Ex-Governor
The former governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta State (1999–2007), Mr. Ibori has been linked to four offshore firms including Stanhope Investments, which is linked to a Swiss bank account that was used to purchase a $20 million private jet. Ibori was convicted in 2012 by a London court in a separate $77 million fraud case and is now serving a 13-year jail term in the UK.
Jose Maria Botelho: Angola’s Petroleum Minister
The recent leaks link Botelho to Medea Investments Limited, a shell company founded in 2001 in Niue, a remote island in the South Pacific. Botelho, Angola’s current petroleum minister, is listed as one of two individuals with power of attorney for the company.
Janet Kabila Kyungu: Congolese President’s Twin Sister
Janet Kabila Kyungu, the twin sister of current DRC President Joseph Kabila and daughter of former President Laurent Kabila, is linked to Keratsu Holdings LTD, which was incorporated in Niue a few months before Kabila’s election victory. Janet is a member of parliament in DRC and currently runs a media company called Digital Congo, which operates TV, radio and internet outlets.
Although it’s not illegal to use offshore banking facilities, the Panama Papers leak could spell trouble if it is proven that their owners have been using them for tax evasion or other unlawful activities.