Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State is currently in the eye of the storm over the controversial wealth he allegedly got through General Sani Abacha, a former Head of State.
There have been reports on how Bagudu used phony companies to siphon and move funds allegedly stolen by Abacha but the governor has denied the stories.
In a fresh controversy, Pandora Papers, one of the biggest leaks of financial documents in the world, has uncovered how Bagudu dispatched a delegation to Singapore in search of a new haven to shelter which is a target of ongoing forfeiture proceedings by the United States Department of Justice.
Pandora Papers investigation – led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, including more than 600 journalists, including some from PREMIUM TIMES , reported that huge funds warehoused offshore, is part of billions of dollars Bagudu helped the Sani Abacha family to steal from Nigeria in the 1990s.
“Referred by Farrer and Co., a prestigious centuries-old London law firm that has represented the British royal family, Bagudu’s choice of secrecy provider in Singapore was Asiaciti Trust, an entity notorious for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder dirty money across borders.”
“The Monetary Authority of Singapore, MAS, imposed a fine of one million and a hundred thousand dollars on Asiaciti in July 2020 for “serious breaches” of Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations between 2007 and 2018.
Bagudu’s brother fingered in ‘dirty wealth’
“When on February 23, 2010, Mr Bagudu’s delegation – comprising his brother, Ibrahim Bagudu, and London lawyer, Ben Davies, from Byrne and Partners, now a part of PCB Byrne – met with Asiaciti’s officials, they registered his preference for a new structure of secrecy to oil the flow of his dirty wealth for the benefits of himself and his family.
“In 1997, some 13 years earlier, Mr Bagudu had structured offshore holdings Ridley Trust and Ridley Group in notorious tax and secrecy havens, Guernsey and the British Virgin Islands, positioning himself as the unseen but ultimate beneficiary. But in 2010, he wanted to terminate the Ridley structure and transfer his assets into another structure, hence the need for Asiaciti’s service in Singapore.
“The reason, according to a 2010 Asiaciti memo, was control. As noted in the memo, Ibrahim told the February 2010 meeting that his brother, Mr Bagudu – “the client” – had become “disillusioned” with institutional and independent trustees (of the Ridley Trust) as they (he and his brother) had no control over their action or inaction and suggested they feared they could lose the hidden assets.
“He then insisted that any new trustee arrangements to be erected in Singapore “must ensure that the family cannot lose ‘control’ of the assets,” PREMIUM TIMES said in its report.
‘Millions in cash transferred abroad’
The report added in months that followed, 99 million euros in cash and securities was then transferred from Ridley to a new structure enabled by Asiaciti, which brushed aside red flags about Bagudu’s controversial background and source of his wealth.
“Asiaciti acted with advice from Farrer and Co. and Byrne and Partners, now a part of PCB Byrne, documents showed,” the report read.
The Bagudu Blue structure
Documents showed that Asiaciti helped Bagudu to set up a multi-layered structure with footprints in at least three countries, namely Singapore, Cook Islands, and the United Kingdom.
At the head of the structure is Blue Holdings Trust, registered in Cooks Island as a “purpose trust” to “wholly” own a Singapore-incorporated private trust company, Blue PTC Pte Ltd., with Bagudu’s brother, Ibrahim, and an Asiaciti nominee as directors.
The Blue PTC Pte Ltd is in turn the trustee of two family trusts – Blue Family Trust (1) and Blue Family Trust (2). Under each trust, then, is a Singapore family-owned investment holding company, FHIC, Blue Holdings (1) Pte Limited, and Blue Holdings (2) Pte Limited, respectively.
Each of the FHIC has an investment account with Waverton Investment Management, formerly JO Hambro Investment Management, and James Hambro and Partners, both London-based firms. Assets kept with the two firms are now frozen, according to U.S. court documents. America has been at the forefront of helping Nigeria recover the Abacha loot, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars stolen were laundered through banks under its jurisdiction.
The beneficiaries of each of the family trusts and the corresponding investments domiciled in London were Bagudu, his wife, seven children, and his brother, Ibrahim.
“In September 2010, according to minutes of some meetings we reviewed, a sum of 99 million euros was moved from Ridley through the Blue PTC in Singapore to the investment accounts in London and distributed as follows:
“Blue Holdings (1) (17,007,016 euros): Waverton – seven million euros; James Hambro – 10,007,016 euros.
“Blue Holdings (2) (81,841,163 euros): Waverton – 23 million euros; James Hambro – 58,841,163 euros,” the report read.
Bagudu was reportedly involved with all the offshore front companies and bank accounts – from the British Virgin Islands to Ireland, Switzerland, England, Guernsey, and Jersey – used to steal and launder billions of dollars belonging to Nigeria under the Abacha regime as a director, signatory on accounts or prime beneficiary, according to U.S. court documents and incorporation filings from the Pandora Papers leaks.
In another scheme, the conspirators were also said to have defrauded Nigeria of more than 282 million U.S. dollars by causing the government to repurchase Nigeria’s own debt from one of their companies for more than double what Nigeria would have paid to repurchase the debt in the open market.
According to American investigators, the initial funding of Bagudu’s Ridley’s account at Credit Agricole Indosuez, London, to the tune of 90 million U.S. dollars in 1998 was from the Par bonds and the debt-buy-back fraud.
The Ridley assets were later transferred to the Blue structure facilitated by Asiaciti and are the outstanding defendant assets being targeted for forfeiture by the United States, court documents showed.
The U.S. filed its forfeiture litigation in 2014. It said, then, the assets held by the Blue holdings, traceable to the old Ridley structure, and domiciled in London investment portfolios held with Waverton and James Hambro, were last valued at a total of 96 million euros.
Bagudu’s brother, Ibrahim, continues to claim the assets, seeking to prevent their forfeiture to Nigeria, court documents showed.
Bagudu’s lawyers respond
Responding to questions from investigators, Nicola Boulton of PCB Byrne, Mr. Bagudu’s lawyers, said “all monies held by the Blue Trusts are lawfully held,” citing a 2003 settlement between Mr. Bagudu and the Nigerian government under then-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
PREMIUM TIMES said Bagudu did not respond to inquiries sent to him over the report.