August 16, 2022

African leaders: Who is Who in the Pandora Papers?

The most expansive leak of tax haven files in history reveals the secret offshore holdings of more than 300 politicians and public officials from more than 90 countries and territories in the Pandora Papers.

The trove of more than 11,9 million confidential files shows how presidents, prime ministers, royals, elected officials – and some of their family members and closest associates – stash assets in a covert financial system with the help of firms who establish companies in secrecy jurisdictions.

Here are the biggest African political names uncovered in the data.

Kenyan president

Uhuru Kenyatta

Uhuru Kenyatta belongs to one of Africa’s wealthiest and most politically powerful families. His father was Kenya’s first president and built the family fortune through land deals he made while in office. An estimate several years ago put the family fortune at more than half a billion dollars. After holding other high-level government positions, Kenyatta was elected president in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. During his presidential campaigns, he vowed to fight corruption.

Kenyatta is linked to a Panama foundation, while his mother and siblings set up at least six other offshore businesses and foundations to manage their assets. Most of the family’s companies were created before Kenyatta was elected president, and leaked documents show that some remained active after he took office.

Those businesses, which are registered in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, hold bank accounts and real estate worth more than US$30 million (N$450 million) located in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Gabon president Ali Bongo

Ali Bongo Ondimba was elected president of Gabon in 2009 and re-elected in 2016 amid violence and allegations of fraud. He previously was foreign minister and defence minister. His father, Omar Bongo, an authoritarian president, ruled the central African country for more than 40 years. Corruption is endemic in Gabon, according to Transparency International.

Bongo and two political associates controlled a shell company in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Pandora Papers documents, an arrangement that hasn’t been reported before. Bongo was the major shareholder in Gazeebo Investments Ltd., according to a February 2008 email from a Miami attorney who instructed lawyers at Trident Trust to incorporate the company. The email described Bongo, then Gabon’s minister of defence, as a ‘civil servant’.

The Pandora Papers documents do not state the purpose of the company. The company’s other shareholders were Jean-Pierre Oyiba, head of Bongo’s presidential cabinet until he resigned in 2009 following a corruption scandal, and Claude Sezalory, a French-born Gabonese politician who was married to Sylvia Bongo Ondimba before she married Ali Bongo in 1989. Oyiba was not charged and denied wrongdoing. Ali Bongo was also the director of another BVI shell company, Cresthill Worldwide Ltd. Its purpose isn’t known, either.

Congo president Denis Sassou-Nguesso

A former military leader, Denis Sassou-Nguesso has spent more than half of his life as president of the Republic of Congo. He served first from 1979 to 1992, when he was ousted after the country’s first multiparty elections. He seized power in 1997 after a bloody civil war and has remained the country’s leader.

Sassou-Nguesso owned a company that controlled diamond mines that are among the country’s most valuable assets. His ownership of that company, Inter African Investment Ltd., was not previously known.

Inter African Investment was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 1998, during Sassou-Nguesso’s second term as president. It kept an account with the London branch of Banque Espirito Santo and owned another BVI company, Ecoplan Finance Ltd. One of Sassou-Nguesso’s daughters, Julienne, served on Ecoplan’s board of directors.

Côte d’Ivoire prime minister Patrick Achi

Patrick Achi is a key adviser and potential successor to Côte d’Ivoire’s president, Alassane Ouattara, who named him prime minister in March 2021.

Achi has had a long career in politics, starting as an adviser in 1997. Three years later, he became minister of infrastructure, a post he held until 2010. He was elected to parliament in 2011.

In 1998, while an adviser to Côte d’Ivoire’s minister of energy, Achi became the owner of a company based in the Bahamas, Allstar Consultancy Services Ltd., leaked documents show. Those records do not state the company’s purpose or report any assets.

Achi owned the company’s shares through a trust arrangement, which meant that his name was not recorded on official documents, obscuring his ownership. Achi created the company through a London-based offshore specialist and, in 2006, transferred management of the company to the Bahamas office of the law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal).

Mozambique former prime minister Aires Ali

Aires Ali has spent his career in Mozambique politics. He is a former prime minister and has been touted as a possible presidential candidate. He is one of a handful of influential politicians who help run Frelimo, the political party that has been in power since Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.

In 2019, Ali was elected to parliament. Before that, he was appointed to a variety of high-level government positions, under two presidents. Ali served as ambassador to China from 2016 to October 2017. He was prime minister for two years, from 2010 to 2012, until he was ousted in a cabinet reshuffle.

Leaked documents reveal that Ali worked with two firms to help obscure his connection to Stonelake Enterprises Ltd, in the Seychelles.

In September 2012, less than a month before Ali was dismissed as prime minister, he formed the shell company through a tax consultancy based in Switzerland. The consultancy worked with a Panama-based law firm, Alcogal, which provided the shareholder and directors of Stonelake Enterprises Ltd. By using ‘nominees’, Ali could shield his identity as the shell company’s owner.

Presidential adviser

Martin Rushwaya (Zimbabwe)

Martin Rushwaya is a top adviser to Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also his cousin. Rushwaya has been involved in politics and government since 1996, when he became the administrator of one of Zimbabwe’s most mineral-rich provinces. He served as secretary of defence for 10 years, beginning in 2009.

While serving as Zimbabwe’s defence secretary, Rushwaya created Greatgem Corp. in the Seychelles in 2010, with the help of a Moscow law firm.

Rushwaya was one of two shareholders of the shell company. The other was a shell company owned by Moscow resident Olga Bakina. Greatgem’s sole director was Grey Mashava, then a Zimbabwean army colonel. The company had a bank account in Latvia.

In 2012, the offshore provider Alpha Consulting Ltd., which set up Greatgem, reported the company to the Seychelles’ Financial Intelligence Unit. Alpha Consulting noted that media reports identified Rushwaya as the director of a diamond-mining company that allegedly “camouflaged the involvement of security forces” and was involved in “off budget” financing.

Security minister

Jim Muhwezi (Uganda)

Jim Muhwezi is related by marriage to Uganda’s longtime autocratic president Yoweri Museveni. In 2021, Museveni appointed him security minister, granting him power over the country’s widely feared police.

A former guerilla army commander, Muhwezi served as Uganda’s spy chief before being elected to parliament in 1986 and awarded a junior ministerial position. In 2001, he became minister of health, a position he held until 2006. The following year, a Ugandan court charged Muhwezi with embezzling money donated for children’s vaccines. He denied wrongdoing and was acquitted. Muhwezi served as minister of information from 2015 to 2016, when he lost his parliamentary seat. He was reelected to parliament in 2021.

Muhwezi owned and held shares in two shell companies.

In February 2015, Muhwezi became one of three shareholders of the British Virgin Islands company Audley Holdings Ltd. The company’s directors authorised it to manage bank accounts in Europe.

Muhwezi also owned Sukari Loma Investment Holdings Ltd, created in Cyprus in 2013 through the offshore provider SFM. The company provided “financial services”, Muhwezi wrote on a signed beneficial owner statement, adding that its funds came from “salary savings” and his hotel and radio stations.

Chad Ambassador

Zakaria Idriss Déby Itno

Zakaria Idriss Déby Itno is the younger stepbrother of Chad’s interim president and the son of its former president.

His father, Idriss, ruled with an iron fist for more than 30 years, until he was killed during a battle with rebels in April 2021. Under the autocrat’s rule, corruption and nepotism were rampant. In 2010, Idriss appointed Zakaria to run the national airline and, following the airline’s collapse two years later, named his son deputy director of the presidential cabinet.

After Idriss was killed, his older son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, took power and appointed Zakaria ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. The two are reportedly political rivals and clashed after their father’s death.

More on the Pandora Papers and this full story can be found on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists website
















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