Why Premium Times insists Obi’s misleading Nigerians on ‘Pandora Papers.’ By Hassan Abdulsalam

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The Pandora Papers which chronicled how  wealthy business executives and politicians utilize and deploy tax havens and secret accounts to cover the tracks of their stash of funds.  It includes aspects of Anambra State former Governor Peter Obi’s secret accounts as published by Premium Times online newspaper in Abuja, Nigeria.

Respecting the necessity for context, USAfricaonline.com is publishing two different views on this issue on this issue especially the Obi tangle and reaction. We published on October 7, 2021 the views of USAfricaonline.com contributor Chris Ukachukwu, with the question: Is Peter Obi unfairly targeted in ‘Pandora Papers’ exposure? 

The perspective published here are from the analysis of one of the editors of Premium Times, Hassan Abdulsalam:

Mr Obi continued to hold his position as a director of his UK company, NEXT International (UK) Limited, 14 months after becoming the governor of Anambra State.

The ex-governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, has reacted to a Premium Times report on his opaque and illegal activities but he largely went off the tangent in an apparent effort to confuse the public.

In the Premium Times’ opening story in the Pandora Papers series, this newspaper exposed Mr Obi’s secret businesses and how he broke Nigeria’s law in at least three ways.

One, Mr Obi continued to hold his position as a director of his UK company, NEXT International (UK) Limited, 14 months after becoming the governor of Anambra State in contravention of Section Six of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act.

Two, Mr Obi set up complicated layers of secrecy to hide his offshore holdings, which he admitted to failing to declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau, apparently hoping the public and the authorities would never get to know, thereby breaching Section 11, Part of the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution.

Three, Mr Obi as a governor was also operating a foreign account in breach of the constitution and the public service code of conduct rules.

However, in a reaction sent to Premium Times by his spokesperson, Valentine Obienyem, Mr Obi insisted he did not break any law – without specifically debunking any of our claims – and then tried to switch the lane by raising what Premium Times did not allege in the paper’s report.

“It was exhilarating that nowhere in the article was he accused of any form of corruption, whether in the form of diversion of public funds or in any other manner during and after his stewardship as the governor of Anambra State,” Mr Obi said in his premise to claim no breach of law.

But our report did not accuse him of diverting public funds as we did not uncover such evidence for such conclusion during our reporting.

When we faced Mr Obi with our findings, he did not deny failure to comply with the law with regards to asset declaration, operation of a foreign account, and directing a private company as a governor. He, however, claimed he was ignorant of the law: “I don’t declare what is owned with others. If my family owns something I won’t declare it. I didn’t declare anything I jointly owed with anyone.”

This is contrary to the position of the Constitution, which specifies the declaration of all assets, whether jointly or partly owned, Premium Times’ reporters told Mr Obi. He said he was not aware of that provision of the law. Nevertheless, leaked records show Mr Obi is the sole ultimate beneficial owner of the offshore companies. So he lied in claiming to be a part-owner.

Yet, Mr Obi, who admitted to ignorance of the provisions of the constitution, which he swore to uphold twice as a two-term governor, claimed Premium Times’ writers “displayed ignorance on matters of Trust and International Investment Practices.”

Even when the federal government introduced the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, and Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme (VOARS) in 2017 and 2018, respectively, to encourage people like Mr Obi with previously undisclosed assets to declare and settle any possible tax liabilities, the ex-governor shunned the two schemes and continued with his opaque activities. The schemes were to curb illicit financial flows and those that complied were offered clearance from prosecution for tax evasion.

The Pandora Papers, the biggest cross-border collaboration of journalists in history, is an investigation into a vast amount of previously hidden offshore companies, exposing secret assets, covert deals, and hidden fortunes of the super-rich – among them more than 130 billionaires – and the powerful, including more than 30 world leaders and hundreds of former and serving public officials.

The leaked records came from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients like Mr Obi, who seek to shroud their financial activities, often suspicious, in secrecy. ref: Premium Times