Secret companies of Senator who laundered billions for Abacha uncovered in tax havens
In his native Niger State, David Umaru, the All Progressives Congress senator representing Niger East Senatorial District is something of a folk hero.
He was a thorn under the skin of the immediate past administration of Governor Mu’azu BabangidaAliyu. He was an unwavering critic and soon gained the reputation of a whistleblower after be published series of advertorials in national newspapers exposing alleged corrupt practices by the Mu’azu Babangida administration.
But one aspect of his life Mr Umaru would hesitate to see on the pages of newspapers is his dealings in notorious offshore tax havens and his role in laundering money for the country’s most notorious dictator ever, Sani Abacha.
Documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES from the leaked database of now infamous Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, revealed that Mr Umaru incorporated two shell companies in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a notorious offshore tax haven, and in tiny South Pacific Ocean country, Niue Island.
The first company, Yorkshire Investment Limited was incorporated on April 27, 1998 with a registered address at No2 Commercial Centre Square, Alofi, the capital of the Niue Island.
The company was incorporated by International Trust Company (ITC), a Niue-based registering agent. In other to conceal the true ownership of the shell company, ITC provided two nominee directors for the company – Melvin Scales (Chairman) and Ramses Owens.
But Mr Umaru was clearly named the true and lawful attorney of the company.
The appointment of nominee directors for shell companies is a common practice in tax havens. The practice involved the appointment of directors only by title. They have no real authority over the company which they supposedly represent and can only act according to the directives of the owners of the firm or that of the person with a power of attorney.
“To negotiate, conclude, sign, execute and deliver on behalf of the Company such conveyances, transfers, assignments, deeds, documents, licenses, authorities or agreements as said Attorney shall consider necessary or proper to enable it to dispose of or acquire any assets in any part of the world (hereinafter referred to as “the assets”) on such terms as the Attorney shall consider proper or desirable in his absolute discretion,” the company’s article of incorporation read.
Not satisfied by the incorporation of his first shell company, five months later, exactly on September 15, 1998, Mr. Umaru again went shopping for his second shell company – Darweng Holding.
This time he decided to incorporate it in the British Virgin Islands. Just like he did with Yorkshire Investment Ltd, Mr Umaru appointed Benerly Hunt and Darlene Bayne as the company’s nominee directors while he retained a full power of attorney, which gave him absolute power to “negotiate, conclude, sign, execute and. deliver on behalf of the Company such conveyances, transfers, assignments, deeds, documents, licenses, authorities or agreements as said Attorney shall consider necessary or proper to enable it to dispose of or acquire any assets in any part of the world (hereinafter referred to as ‘the assets’).”
There is no evidence that Mr Umaru was no longer involved with the shell companies before he was elected a senator.
While not all owners or operators of such offshore entities are criminals, owning or maintaining interest in private companies while serving as public officials is against Nigerian laws.
Section 6(b) of the Code of Conduct Act says a public office holder shall not, “except where he is not employed on full‐time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade.”
This revelation makes Mr Umaru the fourth serving Nigerian senator, after Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor, David Mark, and Senator Andy Uba, who have been shown to own shell companies in offshore tax havens in clear violation of the country’s law.
It is unclear what businesses Mr. Umaru transacted with his offshore companies.
But shortly before he ran the companies, Mr. Umaru, who is currently the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Legal Matters, helped the Abacha family to move huge funds around.
An affidavit filed in November 18, 2013 by the US Department of Justice in a suit seeking the forfeiture of assets worth over $500 million stolen by Mr Abacha and hidden in various in bank accounts in various offshore jurisdiction, revealed how Mr Umaru acted as the official extortionist and money launderer of the Abachas.
As part of a ploy to extort money from foreign companies, the Abacha regime stopped paying foreign companies for contracts executed. One of sure companies was a French Civil Engineering firm, Dumez Group. The Abacha regime owed the company $469 million it refused to pay. In fact, even after the company nationalized and became Dumez Nigeria Limited, the junta still would not release the funds.
Enter Mr. Umaru. The senator, who was then a personal lawyer for the Abachas, approached the owners of Dumez and told them payment could be restarted if they agreed to a 25 per cent kickback of whatever they were paid to the Abacha family. The company agreed.
In December 1996, Mr. Umaru opened an account on behalf of Allied Network Ltd at the Union Bancaire Privee (UBP) in Geneva, Switzerland, which was used to receive the payment of the kickbacks from Dumez and another account at the same bank which was used to receive the payment from the Nigerian government.
According to court papers, between August 16, 1996 and May 22, 1998, the Central Bank of Nigeria transferred $389,737,400 to Dumez account at UBP, Geneva. Of that amount $97,375,543 or 25 per cent of the original payment was transferred by Dumez to Allied Network Ltd account in the same bank.
In late 1997, Mohammed Abacha, the son of the late dictator, authorised the transfer of $11,114,983, being part of the kickback received from Dumez, to an account held by “Mohammed Sani” (Mohammed Sani is the preferred alias of the younger Mr Abacha). He used the alias repeatedly in most of the money laundering transactions involving his family, including the infamous Malabu Oil deal) at Midland Bank London (Now HSBC Bank Plc) with account number 38175076.
The money was later distributed into two accounts also held by Mohammed Sani in the US via a network of several financial institutions.
Mr Umaru did not answer repeated calls to his mobile number by this newspaper. He also did not reply text message sent to his phone for comment.