Some locations in the world have been known over the years to be safe havens for funds stolen from Nigeria. But gone are those days when Nigerian Government officials had preference for bank accounts in England and the United States. Having learnt from the fate that befell the likes of Joshua Dariye, Dipreye Alamieyesegha and James Ibori in the hands of the Met Police, destination has changed.
The three former Governors were caught in the United Kingdom with more than a million pounds sterling in their possession and not only did it become a national embarrassment, the arrests changed most people’s perception about Nigeria and its rulers. Since then, Nigerian public office holders have grown smarter and in recent times, convictions over money laundering have been rather scarce.
Swiss Banks have been popular with Nigerian leaders since the 1980s because of the policies governing the banking industry in Switzerland. Street Journal found out that despite the many steps taken to forestall money laundering, secrecy rules are in place in most Swiss banks while non-residents are permitted to conduct business through offshore entities and various intermediaries.
It has also been discovered that some account holders are given extra degrees of privacy. Such accounts are often referred to as “numbered accounts” and unlike normal bank accounts, the information concerning such accounts are not accessible to all the staff of the bank where they are domiciled. Rather, they are restricted to senior bank officials. Such accounts have been discovered to be impregnable in the course of litigation.
Apart from Switzerland, Cayman Islands have been known to be another destination loved by Nigerian leaders. Cayman is acknowledged as an international financial centre. A good number of former Nigerian military top shots have funds safely stashed away in the Islands located close to Cuba, in the Caribbean. The main industries in Cayman Islands are banking and tourism. And in spite of the many looted funds resting in various accounts within the islands, authorities there pride their land as being free of fraud, reason is no Caymanian has ever been caught in money laundering.
Incidentally, quite unknown to many Nigerians, their leaders have discovered a way of managing looted funds so well that they do not necessarily reflect on the balance sheet. So even when probes are launched, nothing out of the ordinary is noticed. The most commonly embraced system is in form of shares and stocks while others come in form of jewels, works of art and many different disguises which make it easy to use or transfer to third parties without arousing any suspicion.
Mohammed Alabi Lawal, a former Military Administrator of Ogun State who later became civilian Governor of Kwara State was found to have kept $ 4.5 million in accounts in Cayman Island. The discovery was made years after the former Governor’s death. Incidentally none of the accounts was opened in his real name; neither did he name any of his family members as beneficiary in the event of his death. .
About $ 12 million, which was later found to have come from the contract of supplying TATA trucks for the military and the electoral commission in the days of General Sani Abacha were later discovered to be in “safekeeping” in the Cayman Islands, courtesy of the late Head of State and Gen Buba Marwa who facilitated the deal while he was still a military attaché.
Street Journal has also found out that political office holders have also devised ways of using fronts, some of which are well trusted friends, family members or aides. At times, the fronts are big time contractors or consultants to the offices headed by such officials. They are thus contracted to hold funds and assets in trust for them most times. These fronts also help in facilitating properties in choice locations at home and abroad. What some of the women in the political class have in bank vaults would fill more than one jewellery store.
Knowing fully well that the assets could be forfeited if caught, especially in the United Kingdom, government officials buy properties with names coined from their real names or names of their children.
Street Journal has also found out that Nigerian politicians have since shifted their attention to the Ghana and Kenya. Apart from operating accounts, most of them have invested heavily in the different sectors of the Ghanaian economy.
A former Governor of Oyo State has been linked with the ownership of some choice properties in the Ghanaian capital while a number of Senators too are alleged to own different business interests spread across Ghana.
It has also been found out that the habit of stashing cash at home is fast catching up with Nigerian leaders, especially those who know they are covered against prosecution while in office. Both official and private residences are storehouses where amounts running into hundreds of millions are kept. That way, they can avoid prying eyes and there would be no documentation. They are also assured of security since most of them have police guards on duty all hours of the day.