Regional & intl. journalists expose shell companies that help corrupt officials launder money, evade taxes throughout West Africa

ICIJ-page-screenshot-WestAfricaLeaks

  • #WestAfricaLeaks collaboration among journalists from 11 countries analysed 27.5 million documents from Panama, Paradise Papers & others sources
  • Documents reveal apparent corruption, conflicts of interests & tax avoidance or evasion by powerful individuals & companies in the region, facilitated by ease of establishing anonymous companies overseas
  • AfDB estimates Africa loses $50 billion annually to illicit financial flows like these; funds could be used for social & economic investments
  • Beneficial ownership disclosure, recently mandated by the UK Government in its overseas territories, is expected to help address this phenomenon
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Article
30 May 2018

How Africa's elite hid billions offshore

Author: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

May 2018

Key findings:

  • Leaked records uncover the secretive companies and bank accounts of some of West Africa’s most powerful politicians and corporate moguls, including a Mali presidential candidate, the mayor of Cote d’Ivoire’s richest city and a member of the Togolese ruling dynasty inner circle
  • Files also reveal details behind a Seychelles company of a longtime friend of Nobel Prize-winning Liberian ex-president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf who helped lobby on behalf of a mining company
  • Honorary consuls, including several representing European countries, used offshore companies and accounts to avoid taxes and keep money out of sight from authorities in West Africa
  • A Canadian multinational used a letterbox company as a conduit and avoided paying millions of dollars in tax to Senegal, one of the world’s 25 poorest countries

...West Africa Leaks is the largest-ever collaboration of journalists from West Africa.

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Item
22 May 2018

Conflicts of interest exposed by #WestAfricaLeaks underscore need to rein in anonymous company ownership

Author: Transparency International

Stories published as part of the #WestAfricaLeaks project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Cell Norbert Zongo for Investigative Journalism in West Africa (CENOZO) show how easy it is for corrupt public officials, money launderers and other criminals in West Africa to hide behind anonymous companies and access the global financial system. One of the recent #WestAfricaLeaks investigations, which is based on information contained in the Panama Papers, highlights the case of a high-level official from Côte d'Ivoire whose secret offshore company in the Bahamas presents a clear conflict of interest. According to CENOZO, Akossi Bendjo, a key political figure and prominent businessman in Côte d'Ivoire, is also the beneficial owner of a company doing business with the government. Another #WestAfricaLeaks story from Ghana outlines similar conflict of interest issues and breach of public trust. According to records from Appleby, the law firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers breach in 2017, a prominent Ghanaian medical doctor was obscuring his business dealings through a complex structure of offshore companies while serving as ambassador to the United States. This is contrary to the Vienna Convention, which prohibits diplomats from actively engaging in any business ventures that result in personal profit while at post. Jessica Ebrard, a project coordinator at Transparency International working on anti-money laundering in West Africa, said: "These revelations show that people in high-level positions have multiple opportunities to abuse their power while hiding their actions from authorities. Financial centres and West African authorities both need to have more effective anti-corruption measures in place, in particular full transparency around who really owns corporate structures." Max Heywood, global outreach and advocacy coordinator at Transparency International said: “Time and again, we find conflicts of interest being hidden and corruption schemes being made possible through the use of anonymous companies. While governments have made commitments to tackle this problem, implementation and concrete action continues to be lacking. In the meantime, corrupt individuals are still in business, and citizens are paying the price.”

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Author: Anderson Diedri, CENOZO (Investigative Reporting in West Africa)

L’actuel maire du Plateau, Noël Akossi Bendjo, a créé depuis 1997 une société dans un paradis fiscal, le Bahamas. Mais pour ne pas apparaitre officiellement comme le propriétaire, il a mis en place un montage opaque et de dissimulation, avec l’aide du cabinet d’avocat Mossack Fonseca, spécialisée dans la création de sociétés offshores...Mais Mark Elliott (domicilié à Londres) est alors désigné comme « premier directeur » de cette société offshore...Ce dernier, comme le montre nos documents, semble n’être qu’un homme de paille afin de dissimuler l’identité de la véritable personne qui se cache derrière cette entreprise : Akossi Bendjo. Pour résumer, la société Benath Company a son siège aux Bahamas, dispose d’un directeur résidant à Londres et son deteneur d'actions se trouvant lui à Abidjan...Jessica Ebrard, coordonnatrice anti-blanchement à l’ONG Transparency International, interrogée par ICIJ, décrypte cette pratique : « Les administrateurs nominés et les « actions au porteur » obscurcissent la réalité de qui opère réellement ou bénéficie de l’entreprise. En effet, ils sont enregistrés comme les propriétaires légaux d’un actif sans réellement posséder le droit de jouir de ses avantages. Les administrateurs mandataires et les « actions au porteur » sont utilisés avec des structures d’entreprise complexes et opaques mises en place dans différentes juridictions, ce qui permet de cacher facilement les propriétaires bénéficiaires de la société »...« Je ne suis pas actionnaire », a néanmoins rejeté...[Bendjo]...répondant à nos questions...« Les documents scellés sont chez le notaire aux Bahamas. Je suis administrateur » depuis 2014, [a-t-il] fait valoir...Pour lutter contre le fléau de l’évasion fiscale, qui en général explique la sollicitation des paradis fiscaux, la Côte d’Ivoire a renforcé sa réglementation depuis 2016 notamment. Cette réforme s’inscrit dans le cadre du projet « BEPS » lancé en 2013 par l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économique (OCDE) à la demande du G20...[Fait référence aussi à Trafigura, Total et BNP Paribas].  

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Author: Konan Noël, CENOZO (Investgative Reporting in West Africa)

En exploitant plus de 27,5 millions de documents, l'enquête a permis de découvrir que Bendjo est détenteur d’actions au porteur dans une entreprise offshore basée aux Bahamas...Membre du Secrétaire exécutif du Parti démocratique de Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI), chargé de l’organisation et de la mobilisation, Bendjo est l’un des proches collaborateurs d’Henri Konan Bédié, le président du PDCI et ancien chef de l’Etat. Depuis 2001, il est le maire de la commune du Plateau, le pôle économique et administratif de la ville d`Abidjan...C’est en mars 1997...que Noël Akossi Bendjo...[crée]...Benath Company Ltd, une société internationale de droit bahaméen...[grâce à l'aide du]...cabinet d’avocats Mossack Fonseca situé au Panama...L’Ivoirien, Haccandy Kouakou Yao Auguste...a été par la suite nommé comme administrateur aussi....[Bendjo]...propriétaire de Benath Company a, pour sa part, décidé de rester dans l’ombre, en ayant recours à des prête-noms...« Cette société fait ce qu’on appelle la prospection. Les gens ont décidé d’investir dans une société », révèle Bendjo. Et Haccandy...a renchéri : « C’est pour que je puisse faire de la prospection pour l’autre. J’ai eu un mandat pour les représenter en Côte d’Ivoire, de rechercher des marchés pour eux. »...un an après la création de Benath, la société Klenzi distribution, spécialisée dans la distribution de produits pétroliers va voir le jour à Abidjan...« Au départ, c’est Mark Elliot qui a créé son affaire et il voulait investir en Afrique. C’est un ami et il a demandé aux gens (Haccandy et Serge Mobio) d’être administrateur...et il m’a demandé si je peux continuer les activités de l’entreprise...Puisqu’en 2014, je partais à la retraite, c’est pourquoi je suis devenu administrateur », a-t-il réagi sur la question de la propriété de cette société offshore. Sollicité...sur la même question, Haccandy Kouakou [répond]...« Je ne sais pas. J’ai un ami anglais qui est actionnaire. Il s’appelle Mark Elliot. C’est un de mes amis anglais. C’est un des actionnaires. C’est lui le dirigeant de la structure. Et moi, il m’a donné un mandat de représentation pour la Côte d’Ivoire. Donc, je ne suis pas le dirigeant de Benath », a-t-il expliqué...selon Bendjo, « Il n’y a pas d’évasion fiscale. Il n’y a pas de bénéfice qui a été distribué. La société n’a pas fait de bénéfices, elle n’a rien distribué. Il n’y a pas ce qu’on appelle des revenus qui n’ont été redistribués », s’est-il défendu...Pour sa part, la coordinatrice anti-blanchiment a Transparency International conseille ceci : « Il est important de surveiller et d’assurer la légitimité de la richesse des personnes politiquement exposées, y compris les politiciens. Ce n’est pas possible quand ils sont impliqués dans des sociétés offshore anonymes. En effet, les sociétés offshore autorisent les mouvements secrets d’argent de la part des forces de l’ordre et sont un vecteur important de corruption. Bien souvent, les corrompus mènent des vies de luxe en toute impunité en canalisant les produits de la corruption par l’intermédiaire de sociétés offshore. »

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Article
19 May 2018

Ghana: Dr. Bawuah-Edusei: A former Ambassador, his offshore companies and a $305m oil deal

Author: Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, CENOZO, (Investigative Reporting in West Africa)

Among them are a medical doctor and his partner. It is common knowledge that Dr. Kwame Bawuah-Edusei, a former diplomat, is one of the owners of the company known as E.O. Group that held interests in Ghana’s new found oil fields which it later sold, but it hasn’t been known that he was the owner of another company KG Group. Dr. Bawuah-Edusei is a medical doctor based in the United States of America - he runs the Educe Medical Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and has a Foundation called the Edusei Foundation founded by himself and his wife...He is also the founder of Educe Capital LLC, which was founded in the United States with branches in Europe and Africa. Educe Capital has an interest in bio-medicine, real estate, and agro processing: to help Africa work her way out of poverty through job creation, his Foundation’s website says...In 2006 he was appointed Ghana’s Ambassador to the United States by the John Kufuor Administration. Prior to that there are some records showing that Dr. Bawuah-Edusei had served as Ghana’s Ambassador to Switzerland and Austria as well as the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations. But while serving as Ambassador to the United States and contrary to the Vienna Convention which prohibits diplomats from actively engaging in business outside their home countries, he continued to manage the company known as E.O. Group with his partner George Owusu...A US expert also told...that diplomats cannot have other paying jobs because that is why they are given diplomatic immunity – they are protected because they are expected to only work in their official diplomatic job...The memo also interestingly sets out how the $305 million that E. O. Group made from selling its share to Tullow was shared...Kosmos Energy, in a filing with the Securities and Exchanges Commission in the US indicated that E.O. Group owed it a sum of $61.7 million in development costs. At that time EO had missed the payment schedule period of December 2010. According to Kosmos Energy, the money for Development Costs on the oil fields was paid on behalf of EO. Kosmos Energy indicated that under what is termed as the EO Participation Agreement, it was entitled to reimbursement for the development capital expenditures paid for the EO Group’s 3.5 per cent share of costs. It is not clear if EO paid the debt as a Kosmos Energy official in Ghana who was contacted was unaware of the matter saying, “that matter wasn’t on my desk.” Kosmos Energy’s Houston, Texas offices have also not responded to email enquiries.

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Article
9 May 2018

Taking a step back: Why do we care so much about public registers of beneficial ownership?

Author: Transparency International

You might have seen us celebrating the UK government’s decision last week to require British overseas territories to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership. This means that companies based in places like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands will soon have to reveal the identity of the real individuals behind companies — the beneficial owners. We’ve called this “a major victory in the fight against cross-border corruption”...in order to effectively fight money laundering, corruption and tax evasion, authorities need to be able to trace money. This means having timely access to sufficient, accurate and up-to-date information about companies and the people who ultimately own and benefit from them...Company registers and bank records often aren’t enough. When conducting investigations into company ownership, authorities often rely on company registers and information recorded by financial institutions. Our new research into beneficial ownership transparency in G20 member countries and guest countries found that in 15 of the 23 countries assessed, investigators rely almost solely on the information collected by financial institutions and so-called “designated non-financial businesses and professions” (or DNFPBs), such as lawyers and accountants, to identify the beneficial owner of companies. But these sources often aren’t enough, and investigators that depend on them alone face significant obstacles when it comes to identifying, tracking and tracing illicit activities. Company registers around the world record a range of information, but most do not actually include beneficial ownership information. Some of them...do not even include information on shareholders...Banks can complicate things further. Relying on information collected by financial institutions and DNFBPs brings its own set of challenges...Registers could solve these problems — but verification remains an issue. A public, central register is the most effective and practical way to record information on beneficial ownership and facilitate access for the authorities. A central register also supports the harmonisation of the country’s legal framework, avoiding double standards, and facilitates cross-border investigations and international cooperation.

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