Peter Obi, a former Governor of Anambra State has been named in a global tax evasion scandal and investigative reporting called Pandora Papers.
Pandora papers are the largest trove of leaked data exposing tax haven secrecy in history. It details how rich and powerful individuals from across the world-- including more than 330 politicians from 90 countries--launder money by setting up businesses in tax havens.
These places (Panama, Dubai, Monaco, Switzerland, and more) are called 'tax havens' because it is easy to set up companies there, there have laws that make it difficult to identify owners of companies and there is low or no corporation tax within their jurisdictions.
The files were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which shared access with the Guardian, BBC and other media outlets around the world.
According to Premium Times, a Nigerian publication that was part of the global investigation under the ICIJ umbrella in Washington DC, Obi discreetly set up a company called Gabriella Investments Limited, in the British Virgin Island.
Peter Obi named the company Gabriella Investments Limited, after his daughter Gabriella Nwamaka.
Obi, the online newspaper reports, first approached Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax-havens.
Access International then contracted a local registered agent – Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal) — to set up Gabriella Investments Limited for Obi.
Gabriella Investment Limited was born on November 17, 2010.
On the same day the company was incorporated, the nominee directors met and issued 50,000 shares of Gabriella Investment in favour of Hill International Holding Corporation, a shell International Business Company operating under the laws of Belize, another tax haven.
The director of the company is Mr. Van Vuuren, who is also one of the directors of Gabriella Investment.
Gabriella Investment is now known as PMGG Investments Limited in what is a combination of the first letters of the first names of Obi’s nuclear family: P for Peter (ex-governor), M for Margaret (the ex-governor’s wife), G for Gabriella (the ex-governor’s daughter) and G for Gregory (the ex-governor’s son).
Obi has also created a trust known as The Gabriella Settlement, an entity also registered in the BVI.
The Gabriella Settlement is the sole shareholder of PMGG Investments.
Obi also incorporated another company called Next International (UK) Limited on May 16, 1996, in London.
Investigations show that Obi continued to act as director of Next International (UK) Limited for 14 months after becoming Governor of Anambra State, thereby breaking Nigeria’s laws.
In Nigeria, a person is statutorily obligated to withdraw from engaging in or directing a private business, upon becoming a public officer, as stipulated in Section Six (6) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.
Obi resigned from Next International on May 16, 2008, 14 months after he assumed duties as Anambra Governor.
Obi also contravened Section 11 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which stipulates that public officers are required to declare “immediately after taking office and thereafter all” their properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his (or her) unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.
Investigations have revealed that Obi did not declare the companies he tucked away in offshore secrecy havens to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
Asked about his offshore assets and shell companies, Obi told Premium Times that: “I am sure you too will not like to pay inheritance tax if you can avoid it."
Obi, 60, was PDP's vice presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections.
He often preaches frugality, parsimony, anti-corruption, lean governments and probity every other day on prime time television.
He also once told the world that he owns only one wristwatch, even though images of him at different events showed him wearing different brands of pricey wristwatches.
In June 2017, the federal government launched the Voluntary Assets and Income Disclosure Scheme (VAIDS), an initiative seeking voluntary disclosure of previously undeclared assets and income with a view to paying all outstanding liabilities. The VAIDS offered a nine-month window and incentives that included immunity from prosecution for tax evasion and undeclared assets, which would have benefited people like Mr Obi.
A key objective of the VAIDS was curbing illicit financial flows and tax evasion, which commonly feature the use of offshore holdings to shift taxes from where they are earned to havens where little or no taxes are paid.
The government in 2017 said defaulting individuals and corporate bodies who failed to take advantage of the VAIDS would be subject to criminal prosecution.
A number of Nigerian public officials with previously undeclared assets tucked away overseas participated in the VAIDS and got clearance certificates. Mr. Obi shunned the scheme and continued with his opaque business dealings in breach of the law.