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Patriarchy and Negotiated Democracy Knock Wajir Women off the Ballot

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For clan elders in Wajir County, a less educated male candidate is still preferable to an educated woman who is regarded as a “weak” leader who cannot deliver on expectations.

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Patriarchy and Negotiated Democracy Knock Wajir Women off the Ballot

Equality in leadership will remain elusive in northern Kenya as long as powerful sultans continue to promote negotiated democracy as the preferred method of electing political leaders. Negotiated democracy is unconstitutional and does not respect the two-thirds gender rule that promotes equality in decision-making. It is a power-sharing agreement where political positions are distributed ahead of the elections, allegedly to prevent election-related conflicts. (Although, as Dalle Abraham observes, negotiated democracy “does not bring about the expected harmony.”)

There is a Somali proverb that says, “Women have no tribe” from which derives the unspoken rule that women cannot represent their clans and tribes in Wajir County politics. Among the 30 elected Members of the County Assembly and the six Members of Parliament, with the exception of the Women Representative, none is a woman.

The process of negotiation includes all the clans in Wajir but leaves out women, who are not part of the council of sultans. The main Somali clans residing in Wajir are the Ogaden, the Ajuran and the Dagodia. To illustrate, the Dagodia clan, the largest of the clans in Wajir, has a council of sultans who are drawn from the ten Dagodia sub-clans. Each of the sub-clans has its own sultan who is (s)elected by consensus by the clan elders. (The Wabar is the leader and unifying factor of the Dagodia community that also occupies parts of Ethiopia and Somalia. The incumbent, Wabar Abdille Abdi, visited Kenya from his home in Ethiopia in November 2019. This was Wabar Abdille’s first visit to Kenya where he was awarded the highest head of state commendation, the Chief of the Order of the Burning Spear (O.B.S.), by President Uhuru Kenyatta “for his role in ensuring cross-border peace and unity in the region.”)

As we approach the 2022 elections, every clan in Wajir has already chosen its sultan who will be responsible for the selection of suitable political contestants from within the clan to represent it at the ballot to compete against the representatives of the other clans. The Fai clan council of Ugas (sub-clan leaders) recently released a statement on Facebook that they will soon kickstart a series of activities to identify suitable political leaders from among their sub-clans to run in the 2022 elections.

Equality in leadership will remain elusive in northern Kenya as long as powerful sultans continue to promote negotiated democracy as the preferred method of electing political leaders.

Every aspirant must write an application letter to the clan sultan and pay KSh50,000 if vying for the position of Member of the County Assembly. The non-refundable amount rises to KShs200,000 for a parliamentary seat and to KShs1 million for the governorship. In 2017, six women aspirants interested in MCA seats (including Hon. Fatuma Ibrahim, currently a member of the East African Legislative Assembly) tried to go through the process by applying and paying the required amount but they were all turned down and advised to run for the position of Women Representative instead.

One such aspirant is Ms. Fatuma Sheikh Abass who had served two terms as a nominated Member of the County Assembly under the NARC-Kenya umbrella before attempting to vie for the MCA seat in Elben Ward, Wajir East, in 2017. Abbas went through the selection process but was rejected by the council of sultans which decided to hand-pick a male aspirant based on the belief that a clan cannot be represented by a woman at the County Assembly. But Ms. Abass remains undeterred and will be standing again in the same ward in the 2022 elections with the support of the members of the Wajir Women Council that was created in 2021 by Ms. Rukia Abdullahi Barrow, chairperson of the Wajir branch of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake. The Women Council has representatives from the eight sub-counties and strongly supports the participation of women in elective leadership.

The council is encouraging women aspirants not to be intimidated by the curses pronounced against them by their clan sultans in a bid to force them to step aside in favour of male aspirants. The council is also creating awareness among women at the grassroots level to encourage them to support fellow women who wish to run for elective leadership. But the newly created council has no resources, and it has yet to draw up a resource mobilisation strategy.

A meeting bringing together women aspirants from across Wajir was convened in mid-September 2021 by Women Inclusive Network (WIN), a local community-based organization that supports women’s participation in elective leadership. The objective of the meeting was to engage clan elders on the question of support for women aspirants. Saying that he supported women in leadership, one of the elders, Abdi Kule Hassan, a member of the Fai sub-clan Ugas, explained that his own wife, Asha Abdi Dere had been an MCA aspirant for Wagberi ward in the 2013 elections. He said, “Even though she was not selected in the process, I decided to encourage her to go up to the ballot and she got 240 votes out of 5,886 votes. Only forty women voted for her and majority of her voters were men. I have accepted now that its women who don’t support each other.”

The council is encouraging women aspirants not to be intimidated by the curses pronounced against them by their clan sultans in a bid to force them to step aside in favour of male aspirants.

Another point of concern that was raised by one of the elders is that among the women nominated to the county assembly, a number were allegedly divorced due to work-family conflicts, where the workload and work-related travel left little time for family responsibilities.

Of the registered voters in Wajir County, 46 per cent, or almost half, are women but they are under-represented in decision-making at the county level and in the national assembly. This is because they tend to be exploited as voting machines whose role is limited to casting their vote for the candidate endorsed by the powerful sultans. Decisions are made on their behalf by the clan sultans, the council of elders and by their partners, and they are even transported to cast votes for preferred candidates in other polling stations. It has been noted that divorce rates go up during the election period because of women not being allowed to decide for themselves who to vote for or where to vote.

Ms. Ubah Abdikarim, a former nominated MCA for Township Ward, spoke about the level of illiteracy among women in the county and the lack of awareness that gender equality is a human right that is key to development. Ms. Abdikarim said, “As a woman leader, I fight for gender inclusiveness and equality in the county’s elected leadership and in resource sharing. I will encourage women aspirants to continue seeking elective political posts in the wards and to be part of the decision making regardless of the barriers.”

According to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics reports, at 76 per cent, Wajir County has the second highest illiteracy rate in the country after Turkana County where the rate is 82 per cent. Only 22 per cent of women have received any education and because of this, women are assisted voters during elections, enjoying no privacy at the ballot. Their illiteracy places them in a situation where they are forced to loudly state their preferred candidate in the presence of the candidates’ agents and IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) officials. There is a lot fear and intimidation since the ballot is not secret. Most times clan representatives act as watchdogs, observing the women through the windows of the polling stations in order to report back if they vote contrary to the decisions of the sultans.

But the educated women of northern Kenya are increasingly questioning why they are being side-lined by an oppressive culture and open bias that denies them their constitutional right to vie for political leadership to serve their communities. They question the motives behind the sultans’ preference for male aspirants. For the sultans, however educated, strong and vocal a woman is, she is still regarded as a “weak” leader who cannot deliver to their expectations. A less educated male candidate is still preferable in their eyes.

Moreover, allegations that the wife of the impeached former governor of Wajir usurped and misused the powers of the office have not helped the case for women. The accusations have been used to promote the view that women politicians would be no better than corrupt male politicians.

Only 22 per cent of women have received any education and because of this, women are assisted voters during elections, enjoying no privacy at the ballot.

Politics is all about financial stability, but women aspirants are not as financially powerful as their male counterparts. During the electoral period money is essential for logistics and the production of campaign materials but most women aspirants have low visibility because of lack of funds.

The system of negotiated democracy has been normalized and fully accepted by the northern counties, and particularly by the communities in Wajir County. Negotiated democracy has killed the hope of true democracy in northern Kenya. It is an unconstitutional process that does not consider the voters’ interests but benefits the few powerful sultans who select loyalist candidates in return for lucrative contracts for their companies and businesses.

It is the hope of every woman aspirant in northern Kenya that the day will come when women will receive the same support from their councils of elders as their male counterparts. For now, women leaders have no choice but to unite all women at the grassroots to support women leadership. As we head into the 2022 elections, most women aspirants are inspired to change the narrative and to win against the negative and oppressive cultural belief that women cannot lead their communities.

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Muna Ahmed works in the areas of food security, public health, peace-building, conflict mitigation and governance and security. She is also championing gender equality and promoting the participation of women in politics in North Eastern Kenya.

Politics

Pandora Papers: Leak Exposes the Hidden Fortunes of World Leaders and Criminals

As revelations of offshore abuses by elites continue to pour out, there is a growing realization around the world that there is “one set of rules for them, and another set of rules for everybody else”.

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Pandora Papers: Leak Exposes the Hidden Fortunes of World Leaders and Criminals
Photo: James O'Brien, OCCRP

On April 29, 2009, the tenants of a strip of shops and offices on Maddox Street in London’s exclusive Mayfair neighborhood woke up with a new landlord: an 11-year-old boy.

This news should have been surprising. Not only was Heydar Aliyev not yet in his teens, but he also happened to be the son of Azerbaijan’s authoritarian president, Ilham Aliyev. And yet, he had managed to become the owner of 33.5 million pounds (US$ 48.9 million) of prime commercial real estate in the heart of London.

But the tenants on Maddox Street had no chance to be surprised — because they had no way of knowing who really bought their building. And, until today, neither did the rest of the world.

On paper, the owner of the property was a company, Mallnick Holdings S.A., set up in the British Virgin Islands. The fact that it had been acquired by an associate of President Aliyev and then handed over to his young son was hidden, thanks to the Caribbean territory’s strict corporate secrecy.

The strip of commercial property bought by the Aliyevs on London’s Maddox Street. Credit: Will Jordan / OCCRP

The strip of commercial property bought by the Aliyevs on London’s Maddox Street. Credit: Will Jordan / OCCRP

The deal is just one example of the miraculous secrecy enabled by offshore finance: a thriving, global industry of formation agents, bankers, lawyers, and accountants that helps hundreds of billions of dollars worth of the proceeds of corruption, crime, tax avoidance and shady deals move undetected around the world every year.

Now, a massive leak of data pulls back the veil of secrecy on the offshore finance industry like never before. Known as the Pandora Papers, it is the broadest-yet leak of confidential financial documents, comprising nearly 12 million files from 14 companies that provide offshore services.

Coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), over 600 journalists from around the world, including more than 75 from OCCRP’s network, spent two years sifting through nearly three terabytes of documents.

The result is an unprecedented look inside the world’s shadow economy. Coming more than five years after the Panama Papers, which exposed law firm Mossack Fonseca, the latest leak ends forever the idea that abuses of the offshore system are the work of a few bad apples. Instead, the files expose a vast and often interconnected system that is feeding crises and discontent across the world.

It’s “the dark side of globalization,” Oliver Bullough, author of Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back, told OCCRP.

For decades, major banks, law firms and accountants have worked hand in hand with the world’s biggest corporations to build a system that allows for seamless global commerce and the minimization of tax, Bullough said. As time has gone by, kleptocrats and criminals have increasingly used this system for their own ends.

“It just so happens that the same things that big corporations want — minimal scrutiny, minimal taxes, best protection for contracts and so on — are also the same things the kleptocrats want,” he said.

But while corporate tax minimization might hurt the budgets of developed countries, the worst damage is in the Global South. For a fee, offshore providers are able to create sophisticated global structures that can be used by politicians, officials and businessmen in some of the world’s poorest countries to siphon staggering amounts of money abroad. As the Pandora Papers show, service providers often prove all too willing to take on such clients.

“It’s like unleashing a tiger on an island full of flightless birds,” Bullough said. “It’s obviously going to be a disaster.”

The files illustrate the truly global nature of the offshore business. It’s a hidden world in which a reported secret mistress of Russian President Vladimir Putin can get a luxury apartment in Monaco via an offshore shell company, and where the King of Jordan is able to secretly snap up real estate in London and Malibu. Again and again, the files show the ease with which money can be quietly moved around the world — including by politicians and others in positions of public trust.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Russian Look Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: Russian Look Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

From missing taxes to stolen artworks and smuggled antiquities, the Pandora Papers lays bare exactly how the offshore industry hides the fortunes of the world’s rich and infamous alike. In many cases, it has also facilitated the transfer of vast wealth from poor and developing countries to tax havens and wealthy enclaves in cities like London, where fashionable central areas have been gobbled up by politicians, officials, and their relatives. Trillions of dollars, mostly from the earnings of large corporations are believed to be stashed in offshore tax havens. Each year, tax avoidance alone is estimated to cost the world’s poorest countries $200 billion a year — far in excess of what they receive in development assistance.

The entire system is so hard to unpack in part because jurisdictions that offer corporate secrecy, such as the United Arab Emirates, are able to attract so much money, said Lakshmi Kumar, Policy Director at Global Financial Integrity, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit.

“These offshore jurisdictions act as financial centres for their region, businesses migrate there. The UAE allows for commercial disputes to be settled through English common law, they provide anonymous companies, protections for businesses,” Kumar said.

“It’s safe and convenient for business. But that is also safe and convenient for criminal actors.”

“Bringing Mischief to Mortals Silently”

The service providers whose data make up the leak are spread across the world and have decades of experience discreetly servicing high profile clients.

The largest tranche of files, just over 3.75 million in total, comes from Trident Trust Group, a firm that has operated since the late 1970s in offshore havens including the British Virgin Islands, the Seychelles, and Panama, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Long Bay Beach in the British Virgin Islands. Credit: robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Long Bay Beach in the British Virgin Islands. Credit: robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

The Pandora Papers shows Trident’s customers have included powerful people such as Bahrain’s former prime minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, as well as Khadem al-Qubaisi, a former aide to Abu Dhabi’s royal family. Prominent businessmen, such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma, have also been clients.

The family and business associates of Azerbaijan’s leader Aliyev used Trident’s services to build an offshore-controlled empire in the United Kingdom worth over half a billion dollars in unexplained wealth. Documents show that Trident set up 84 companies in the British Virgin Islands for Aliyev’s circle — including some that received money from the Russian and Troika Laundromats, two multi-billion-dollar money laundering schemes first revealed by OCCRP. The companies were also used to secretly invest in businesses back home in Azerbaijan.

In some cases, the documents show Trident maintained relationships with clients in spite of accusations of wrongdoing. Abu Dhabi adviser al-Qubaisi remained a client of Trident years after he was accused by the U.S. Justice Department of playing a role in a multi-billion dollar fraud involving funds from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. Trident also continued to work with the family trust of Dan Gertler, an Israeli mining billionaire, years after he was accused by a U.N. expert panel of exchanging “conflict diamonds” from Africa for cash and weapons. Gertler has since been sanctioned by the U.S. government.

In a response to reporters, Trident refused to answer questions on specific cases. Instead, it said the company “is regulated in the jurisdiction in which it operates and is fully committed to compliance with all applicable regulations. Trident routinely cooperates with any competent authority which requests information.”

Other providers in the data include law firms, such as Panama’s Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, known as Alcogal, and Cyprus’ Demetrios A. Demetriades, known as Dadlaw. They also include a wide geographic spread, from Asiaciti Trust, a service provider that focuses mainly on the Asia-Pacific region, to Alpha Consulting, a firm based in the Indian Ocean nation of the Seychelles.

The latest revelations show that offshore providers make up a truly global and interdependent industry, said Rachel Etter-Phoya, a senior researcher at the Tax Justice Network.

“The celebrities, the political families are all involved. They’re all using the same service providers,” Etter-Phoya said. “The service providers work together and go after similar clients [and] the clients recommended them to each other.”

The data also contains fascinating details on another trend: the growing role of the United States as an offshore haven. Due to the central role the U.S. plays in the global banking system, the country is in a uniquely powerful position to bring secretive offshore finance to heel. But while the federal government has made recent efforts to rein in the industry abroad, many states — such as Delaware, Alaska and Nevada — have held out or are moving in the opposite direction. In recent years, lawmakers in over a dozen U.S. states have voted to expand their financial secrecy industries.

The Pandora Papers contains details on over 200 trusts set up in the U.S. in recent years. In dozens of cases, clients have abandoned more traditional havens, such as the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, in favor of the U.S.

The most popular destination has been South Dakota, where the past decade has seen the value of assets held in trusts reach more than $360 billion. State laws in South Dakota allow for the establishment of secret trusts which don’t have to pay a cent of tax to the state for any earnings. Unlike most states, which restrict the life of trusts to a century or less, South Dakota trusts are also “perpetual,” meaning they have no end date. This means they can continue making tax free gains and passing them on to future generations — theoretically forever.

South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. Credit: Images By T.O.K. / Alamy Stock Photo

South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore. Credit: Images By T.O.K. / Alamy Stock Photo

“As a citizen, I’m so sad that my state was the state that opened Pandora’s box,” Susan Wismer, a former South Dakota lawmaker, told ICIJ.

“You Know Who”

In the coming days, OCCRP will publish a broad range of stories based on the Pandora Papers. Frequently, the documents show that the biggest beneficiaries of the offshore systems are people in power, as well as their friends and family.

Known in the industry as “politically exposed persons,” or PEPs, such people are supposed to be subject to increased scrutiny to make sure their money hasn’t come from questionable deals or outright corruption. Offshore service providers routinely say they subject such people to enhanced “know your customer” checks.

In total, 35 current and former national leaders appear in the leak, alongside 400 officials from nearly 100 countries. Among those names are former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović, and Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Among the revelations are details of how Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who was elected on an anti-corruption platform, used offshore companies to disguise an investment of 15 million euros in luxury property in the south of France, including a chateau. The files also show how another European leader elected on an anti-graft platform, Volodymyr Zelensky, appears to have used complex offshore arrangements to allow his family to continue benefiting from overseas business without declaring it.

The leaked files show that offshore firms sometimes appear to have taken a lenient approach to their due diligence on politically sensitive clients.

Nikola Petrović was one such customer. The Serbian citizen was the head of the country’s state-owned electricity transmission company. He was also the kum — roughly equivalent to a best man or blood brother — of the country’s autocratic president, Aleksandar Vučić. He became an owner of a British Virgin Islands company, set up in 2016, via Swiss consulting firm Fidinam and Alcogal, the Panamanian law firm.

But when setting up the company, Petrović never informed Alcogal that he might be considered a politically exposed person despite being so close to the president. Furthermore, his Swiss lawyer specifically told Alcogal that Petrović was not a PEP. However, Alcogal’s due diligence after the formation of the company uncovered his political position and asked for a bank reference letter. Documents show that the Swiss law firm pushed back on requests by Alcogal, offering instead to write the reference letter themselves. Alcogal accepted the offer. Petrović kept the company secret from Serbian officials, never declaring it as required by law with the anti-corruption agency.

Petrović did not respond to questions.

The documents show the lengths providers take to preserve their clients’ anonymity. The leak shows how Panamanian firm Alcogal and a Swiss adviser for Jordan’s King Abdullah II worked to conceal the monarch’s identity from the public. Even in emails between themselves, they referred to Abdullah using pseudonyms: the “final beneficiary” living in Jordan, or “you know who.” After the British Virgin Islands passed a 2017 law requiring companies to confidentially disclose their real owners, correspondence showed that Alcogal and the advisers discussed using a workaround in which they would have disclosed a holding company, rather than the king, as true owner to local authorities. It is unclear what they ultimately decided to do.

The king’s attorneys told ICIJ that professionals manage the king’s companies to ensure compliance with relevant legal and financial obligations. In a response to ICIJ, Alcogal said that the law does not require it to report politically-exposed people, known as PEPs, on the basis of their political ties alone. The firm said that it conducts enhanced background checks on all politically-connected individuals.

“One Set of Rules for Them”

The vast, secret flow of offshore cash isn’t just hurting the budget bottom line. Across the world, it’s also feeding discontent and undermining governments’ legitimacy.

In Lebanon, a severe banking crisis and a series of financial scandals involving the country’s business and political elite has led to sometimes violent protests. Amid electricity cuts, fuel lines, and shortages of currency, Lebanese are fleeing the country in droves.

One of the banks that has been the focus of public anger is Al Mawarid Bank, which responded to the crisis by preventing clients from withdrawing their U.S. dollar savings. When news emerged in 2020 that bank chairman Marwan Kheireddine, bought a Manhattan apartment from the Hollywood star Jennifer Lawrence, angry crowds burned a building in Beirut they believed belonged to him.

But thanks to the secrecy enabled by offshores, wealthy individuals like Kheireddine are able to hide much more.

For example, the Pandora Papers show that in 2019 amid warnings by economists of the impending crisis, Kheireddine became the owner of a British Virgin Islands company that owned a $2 million yacht. The previous owner of the yacht, Yahya Mawloud, told reporters that the vessel had been given to Kheireddine as collateral for a loan.

Kheireddine did not respond to a request for comment from ICIJ.

Lebanese remain furious with their country’s elites, who they blame for the economic chaos. Wafaa Abou Hamdan, a 57-year-old widow, told OCCRP partner Daraj that inflation had caused her life savings to fall from the equivalent of $60,000 to just $5,000. “All my life’s efforts went in vain, I have been working continuously for the past three decades,” she said. “We are still struggling on a daily basis to maintain our living” while “the politicians and the bankers . . . who seized our savings have all transferred and invested their money abroad.

Even countries that appear to have benefited from the inflow of illicit cash, like the United Kingdom, are seeing increases in inequality and local corruption as a result, said Nicholas Shaxson, the author of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World.

As revelations of offshore abuses by elites continue to pour out, there is a growing realization around the world that there is “one set of rules for them, and another set of rules for everybody else,” Shaxson said. “I think a lot of people grasp that viscerally.”

The good news is that greater awareness is leading more people to embrace concerted, cooperative action to work globally to reduce secrecy and close loopholes, he said.

“I’m quite optimistic for the long term. But you know, under no illusions that it’s going to be easy. Or, you know, even going to be successful.”

This story was first published by our partner OCCRP. It includes contributions from ICIJ, KRIK, Daraj, and other Pandora Papers partners.

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Politics

Pandora Papers: The Secret London Properties of Nigeria’s Elite

Journalists from the BBC, The Guardian and Finance Uncovered, spent months matching the names of company owners found in the Pandora Papers with UK Land Registry records to discover who really bought hundreds of UK properties. The result is the most comprehensive dataset ever published focusing on rich and powerful Nigerians who have secretly bought UK property.

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Pandora Papers: The Secret London Properties of Nigeria’s Elite

A Finance Uncovered graphic reveals a wave of cash flooding into London property from elite Nigerian politicians and business figures using offshore secrecy vehicles.

The interactive visualisation, produced using data leaked in the Pandora Papers and other similar investigations, offers a further indication that there was a mushrooming of UK property purchases by Nigerian-owned offshore companies.

In the last three decades at least 233 houses and apartments were bought by 166 such companies with a combined worth today of £350 million.

Behind these companies were 137 wealthy and influential Nigerians, according to an investigation by Finance Uncovered and Premium Times.

The bulk of purchases happened between 2010 and 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan was president of Nigeria. Jonathan’s government has been accused of allowing corruption to run rampant. He has always strongly defended his record in office and denied any wrongdoing.

The Pandora Papers is a massive leak from firms that specialise in setting up offshore companies in territories such as the British Virgin Islands and Panama. The leaked documents have allowed journalists from all over the world to lift the corporate veil and reveal the companies’ true owners. The project was organised and led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

It is not against the law to secretly buy British properties using anonymous offshore companies. Finance Uncovered has seen no evidence in the Pandora Papers that money used to buy houses or apartments in the UK represents the proceeds of corruption or other criminality.

Indeed, many specialist advisers have routinely recommended clients invest in this manner to legally avoid tax.

Journalists from the BBCThe Guardian and Finance Uncovered, spent months matching the names of company owners found in the Pandora Papers with UK Land Registry records to discover who really bought hundreds of UK properties.

In addition, Finance Uncovered then teamed up with Premium Times to apply similar analysis to previous data leaks, including the Panama Papers and FinCEN FIles.

The result is the most comprehensive dataset ever published focusing on rich and powerful Nigerians who have secretly bought UK property.

Stella Oduah

The property owners include Nigeria’s former aviation minister Stella Oduah. Now 59, she served under Jonathan from 2011 until 2014 when she resigned amid serious corruption allegations, which she has denied.

Stella Oduah
Oduah (pictured above) was never charged on those allegations. But she has since been indicted on separate money laundering offences relating to an alleged fraud. Oduah, who remains a senator, has always denied accusations of wrongdoing.

Our investigation suggests she secretly bought London property.

We have seen a confidential US suspicious activity report by Deutsche Bank. It suggested that a company owned by Oduah made a suspicious payment of almost $72,000 to a London property broker in 2012.

A search of Land Registry records then showed that one month later another company, registered in the Seychelles, paid £5.3 million for a London townhouse.

The Seychelles company shared a name with another one owned by the Oduah family.

We asked the former minister and the London property broker to confirm that Oduah, her family or associates, were involved in buying the London property but neither responded.

The Deutsche Bank suspicious activity report is part of the FinCEN Files, a leak of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with other journalists through the ICIJ.

It is not known whether any further action was taken as a result of the suspicious activity report.

Mohammed Bello Koko

Another prominent figure whose property-owning company was discovered by reporters in the leaked data is Mohammed Bello Koko, 52, (pictured below) the finance director of the powerful Nigerian Ports Authority. He is also reportedly its acting managing director.

For much of his career he worked in banking, including 10 years at Zenith Bank, where he rose to be a deputy general manager.

According to the Pandora Papers, Bello Koko and his wife were the anonymous owners behind two companies incorporated in the BVI.

Mohammed Bello KokoSearches at the Land Registry showed that these companies bought five London properties between 2009 and 2017, for a combined total of almost £1.5 million. One of the properties has since been sold.

Elsewhere in the Pandora Papers, a 2017 letter from law enforcement officials in the BVI requested information about these BVI companies — together with seven others — in relation to an investigation into financial offences, including money laundering.

Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), the BVI registered agent for the companies, wrote back saying: “To the best of our knowledge, these companies do not have any assets or bank accounts held in their name.”

Asked why it had not mentioned the UK properties, Alcogal explained that it was only obliged to provide law enforcement officials with the information that it holds in its records.

Finance Uncovered and Premium Times wrote to Bello Koko and his wife but they did not respond.

We have seen no evidence that law enforcement enquiries in the BVI led to further action against Bello Koko, his wife or their property owning companies.

Anonymous ownership

Lanre Suraju, chair of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (Heda Resources Centre), a Nigerian anti-corruption campaign group: “For a country that is incapable of providing electricity and decent roads without external financial support, and which depends on a combination of foreign loans and aid to supply potable water and public education, it is galling to discover such a humongous outflow of Nigeria capital to London, all concealed via the use of offshore companies. “

For more than five years, under three different Conservative Party prime ministers, the British government has been promising to make the names of offshore property owners public as part of wider efforts to end anonymous ownership. But it has failed to do so.

Rachel Davies Teka, head of advocacy at Transparency international, said: “This investigation shows it remains all too easy for those with suspicious wealth to acquire property in the UK whilst hiding their identities using opaque offshore companies. Not only does this harm the countries where suspect funds are siphoned from, but it damages Britain’s reputation as a hub for global commerce.”

For privacy reasons, Finance Uncovered is not publishing or mapping the names of the owners or locations of specific properties.

This article was first published by our partner Finance Uncovered.

* Contributing research to this investigation: Taiwo Adebayo, Nicholas Ibekwe and Musikilu Mojeed
* Story edited by Nick Mathiason and Ted Jeory

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Politics

Client 13173: The Secret Offshore World of the Kenyatta Family

Seven members of the Kenyatta family are revealed through the Pandora Papers as being variously connected to 11 offshore companies and foundations.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, the political dynasty that has dominated Kenyan politics since independence, for many years secretly owned a web of offshore companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, according to a new leak of documents known as the Pandora Papers.

The Kenyattas’ offshore secrets were discovered among almost 12 million documents, largely made up of administrative paperwork from the archives of 14 law firms and agencies that specialise in offshore company formations.

Other world leaders found in the files include the King of Jordan, the prime minister of the Czech Republic Andrej Babiš and Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

The documents were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and seen by more than 600 journalists, including reporters at Finance Uncovered and Africa Uncensored, as part of an investigation that took many months and spanned 117 countries. Though no reliable estimates of their net worth have been published, the Kenyattas are regularly reported to be one of the richest families in the country.

The Kenyattas’ offshore secrets were discovered among almost 12 million documents, largely made up of administrative paperwork from the archives of 14 law firms and agencies that specialise in offshore company formations.

They are well known in Kenya as the owners of a vast business empire, including significant interests in the banking, insurance and media sectors, as well as hotels, agricultural land and the large Brookside dairy on the outskirts of Nairobi.

But what has not been known is their activity through tax and secrecy havens, maintained by a network of bankers, advisers, offshore service providers and front figures.

Seven members of the Kenyatta family are revealed through the Pandora Papers as being variously connected to 11 offshore companies and foundations.

The documents reveal that family members have used offshore companies to own three properties in the United Kingdom. One, a flat near Westminster in London, now worth an estimated £1m, was until this summer rented out to a British Member of Parliament, although she did not know who owned it.

The Pandora Papers also show that Muhoho Kenyatta, the president’s younger brother who manages large sections of the family’s businesses, owned an offshore company with a portfolio of cash, stocks and bonds worth $31.6m in 2016.

Pandora Papers

Other documents in the leak show a foundation set up in Panama in 2003 for the president’s now 88 year old mother, “Mama” Ngina Kenyatta. Upon her death, all the assets held in the foundation were to pass to her son, Uhuru.

The Pandora Papers contain only a handful of clues about the purpose of the Kenyattas’ offshore interests or what funds and assets they might have placed in these secretive entities.

One document simply says a company in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) had been set up by Kenyatta family members with “savings from their family and their activities”.

In 2018, President Kenyatta (pictured below in Nairobi last week) was asked about his family wealth during an interview on the BBC’s Hardtalk programme. He said: “I have always stated, what we own, what we have, is open to the public. As a public servant, I am supposed to make my wealth known and we declare every year.

The Pandora Papers also show that Muhoho Kenyatta, the president’s younger brother who manages large sections of the family’s businesses, owned an offshore company with a portfolio of cash, stocks and bonds worth $31.6m in 2016

“And I have always said: ‘If there is an instance where somebody can say that what we have done or obtained has not been legitimate,’ say so: we are ready to face any court.”

Jack Blum, an American financial crime lawyer and former staffer on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said: “If you see that a prominent political family has set up offshore arrangements it certainly would pique one’s interests. You would really have to begin to investigate further because the question would be: Have state assets… been moved and used for the benefit of the individuals involved?”

However, Blum added: “Now, can we say with certainty that the simple use of [offshore companies] is evidence of some kind of criminal activity? I would have to say ‘No’. You have to do a lot more work.”

The Pandora Papers show no evidence that state assets have been stolen or hidden in offshore entities controlled by the Kenyattas.

We tried to contact President Uhuru Kenyatta, his brother Muhoho, his mother Ngina and all relevant members of the Kenyatta family, as well as the president’s office in Nairobi. We asked why they had set up complex corporate structures in some of the world’s top secrecy havens, how much money they had taken offshore and where that money came from. We also asked whether they still used the entities and if so what assets they currently contain.

No-one acknowledged or responded to our letters, emails, phone calls and texts.

There is nothing unlawful about using secrecy structures or making overseas investments. Many wealthy families choose to spread their investments overseas, particularly when their home country faces political or economic turmoil. This is known as capital flight.

However, capital flight — whether lawful and illicit — often drains local investment and increases inequality.

Attiya Waris, Professor of Fiscal Law at the University of Nairobi, said that when ruling elites are discovered to have parked cash offshore, it “is a signal to the rest of the economy that they can do the same”.

She said: “The kind of knowledge on how to do this circulates among professional classes such as lawyers and accountants and they use it to implement the system for others, drawing even the middle classes into engaging with capital flight.”

The Pandora Papers contain only a handful of clues about the purpose of the Kenyattas’ offshore interests or what funds and assets they might have placed in these secretive entities.

Transparency and anti-corruption campaigners have long argued public officials should fully disclose their assets and earnings.

Waris said while complete transparency was never realistic, the concept itself is critical, particularly when countries are trying to rebuild themselves in the wake of the global pandemic.

“The greater the disparities in wealth are in a country, the more you have social problems,” she added.

Under Kenyan law, President Kenyatta is required to make asset declarations for him and his wife, though they are not made public. However, as in most other countries with such requirements, asset disclosure rules do not extend to the wider family.

The findings from the Pandora Papers come as Kenya enters an election period. President Kenyatta is constitutionally bound to step down from office in 2022 after eight years in office — two terms that have seen improved infrastructure yet concerns about inequality and national debt.

First Family

President Kenyatta has carefully nurtured the reputation of the country’s “first family”. It is a family whose history is tied inextricably to the country’s independence and a business empire employing thousands of people.

Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, swept to presidential power as a near-penniless independence activist in 1963, ushering in the birth of a new republic.

His status and reputation as the father of the nation grew. So too did his family’s wealth.

But by the time he died in 1978, there were already murmurs.

As noted in a now declassified report by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), written days after Jomo’s death, there were allegations of controversial land dealings involving the Kenyattas.

The report said funds provided by foreign governments — earmarked to pay for redistribution of land from colonial settlers back to landless Kenyans — had instead allegedly been used by the Kenyattas and their associates to buy land for themselves.

US intelligence officers wrote that there was “growing public disenchantment with the Kenyatta clan’s economic monopoly”.

While Jomo Kenyatta himself owned only about half a dozen properties, on roughly 4,000 hectares of land, his fourth wife Mama Ngina owned at least 115,000 hectares including a large ranch, two tea plantations and three sisal farms, the report said.

The Pandora Papers show that in the late 1990s, Swiss wealth advisers had begun helping with the financial affairs of Mama Ngina and other members of her family.

The Swiss advisers, in turn, used an offshore law firm called Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee — or Alcogal.

The Pandora Papers include a leak of thousands of documents from Alcogal.

They show that in 1999, Alcogal incorporated a BVI registered company called Milrun International Ltd for Mama Ngina, a minority shareholder, and her two daughters.

Alcogal also provided the registered office for Milrun and supplied Alcogal staffers to act as the company’s official directors.

The result, explained in the diagram below, was an entirely anonymous company, with an address and directors that could not be traced back to the true beneficial owners.

Pandora Papers
This company was used a year later to buy an apartment thousands of miles from Kenya and Panama, in Westminster, central London, for £280,000.

The Pandora Papers show that the Kenyatta daughters still owned Milrun until at least 2017. We asked them if they still owned the company but they did not respond.

Today, Milrun is still listed on UK Land Registry records as the proprietor of the apartment — now estimated to be worth £1m.

Until this summer, Emma Hardy, a British Labour party MP, rented the apartment when away from her constituency on parliamentary business. As she did so, she lawfully reclaimed £2,600 a month in rent expenses from state funds.

Attiya Waris, Professor of Fiscal Law at the University of Nairobi, said that when ruling elites are discovered to have parked cash offshore, it “is a signal to the rest of the economy that they can do the same”.

After Ms Hardy was shown the findings from the Pandora Papers, a spokesperson for the MP said: “Emma had absolutely no knowledge of this. She signed a standard tenancy agreement through a reliable agency approved by the independent organisation that administers MPs’ accommodation costs. She is shocked at what this investigation has uncovered, and believes it shows why more transparency is urgently needed.”

In December 2002 Mwai Kibaki was elected Kenya’s third president, defeating Uhuru Kenyatta. It triggered a mood change among the country’s elites as Kibaki promised an anti-corruption drive.

“The era of ‘anything goes’ is gone forever,” Kibaki said at his inauguration rally. “Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya.”

In the wake of these remarks, there was a rush of money leaving the country. There were disputed allegations that Kibaki’s predecessor as president, the deeply unpopular Daniel arap Moi, had been among those sending money abroad, in part using offshore structures and Swiss banks.

Uhuru had been Moi’s choice to succeed him and his defeat was a blow for the Kenyattas.

It was around this time in 2003 that a trust-like entity called Varies Foundation was formed in Panama, again with the assistance of the Swiss wealth advisers and Alcogal, the Pandora Papers show.

The documents show that Mama Ngina was the beneficiary, and that upon her death this secret foundation was to be run for the financial benefit of her son, Uhuru.

The Pandora Papers do not show what funds, if any, were held by Varies. According to searches of public files in Panama, the foundation is still active. However, it has not paid local regulatory taxes in the Central American country since 2014, suggesting it may now be in disuse.

A spokesperson for Mama Ngina Kenyatta did not respond to our questions.

President Kenyatta’s press office did not respond to any of our questions, including those about his offshore inheritance.

Secrecy haven

Another member of the Kenyatta family named in the Pandora Papers is Udi Gecaga, former brother-in-law to Uhuru Kenyatta. The 76-year-old today has another link to the president through his son, Jomo Gecaga, who serves as his personal secretary.

Gecaga’s fortunes had risen quickly under president Jomo Kenyatta after Lonrho, a powerful and controversial British conglomerate, with land and mining interests throughout post-colonial Africa, picked him out to be a senior executive.

Gecaga was flown to London and offered a huge sum to take the job on account of his influence within the Kenyatta family, according to a biography of Lonrho’s late chairman Tiny Rowland by journalist Tom Bower. Rowland wrote out a cheque for a five-figure sum and handed it to Gecaga: “Is this enough?… It’s for you and your family. Take care of the political problems.”

Later, Rowland occasionally said he eventually wanted Gecaga to succeed him as chairman, but within days of the death of Jomo Kenyatta in 1978, the Lonrho boss demanded his dismissal. He was eventually replaced by a close associate of Kenyatta’s successor, Moi.

Gecaga’s name appears only fleetingly in the Pandora Papers, but further investigations have shown he was no stranger to offshore investments. While he worked at Lonrho, an exotic corporate entity called Blim Securities Anstalt, formed in Liechtenstein in 1977, bought a large mansion an hour’s drive from London, which became his family home. In 1999, Blim Securities also bought an apartment near in the upmarket London neighbourhood of Knightsbridge.

An anstalt is an obscure type of trust in Liechtenstein, one of the world’s top secrecy havens.

Neither Udi Gecaga nor his son Jomo responded to our questions.

In response to questions, a spokesperson for Alcogal said it leaves clients when it suspects clients are involved in money laundering. The company added it has “a robust compliance department, comprising around 20 professionals with high-level education, that receive ongoing training in compliance according to the highest industry levels.”

The company added: “It is equally important to note that corporate providers are not legally responsible for the activities of the companies which they incorporate. While no corporate service provider or financial institution is infallible, we have always acted according to the law, and have cooperated in all respects with competent authorities.”

Having received no response from the Kenyatta family, Pandora Papers journalists searched public records in the BVI and Panama to establish whether the entities linked to the Kenyatta family were still active.

Three of the four Panamanian foundations are active and one is suspended. However, none of the four have paid the required regulatory taxes in Panama since 2014, suggesting they may have fallen into disuse.

Of the seven BVI companies we examined, one was struck off the corporate register in 2014, five were struck off between 2018 and 2021, and one remains active. A company that has been struck off the BVI register is not dissolved, and can, if required, be reinstated once outstanding regulatory fees are paid.

UPDATE October 4 2021:

On October 4, a day after our investigation was published, President Kenyatta issued a statement to say: “My attention has been drawn to comments surrounding the Pandora Papers. Whilst I will respond comprehensively on my return from my State Visit to the Americas, let me say this:

“That these reports will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe. The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness.

“The Pandora Papers and subsequent follow up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who can not explain their assets or wealth. Thank you.”

* Graphics by Clement Kumalija
* Editing by Ted Jeory and Nick Mathiason
* This story was updated to include President Kenyatta’s public statement on October 4.

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