A portion of the wealth owned by former Chairman of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), Hakeem Belo-Osagie, is domiciled in trusts and shell companies in some notorious tax havens around the world, with some in Jersey in the Channel Islands, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
The Channel Islands are a tax haven and an archipelago in the English Channel, off the French Coast of Normandy.
Mr. Belo-Osagie, now Chairman of Etisalat Nigeria, was listed by Forbes Magazine as the 41st richest man in Africa with a net worth of $600 million as at November 2014.
One of the tax-haven Trusts in Jersey is known as the Belo-Osagie Trust 2 which actually is a front office for a shell company called Clerkenwell Management Limited.
The relationships of these two entities and other offshore subsidiaries are buried in a complex layers of secrecy.
This information came to the fore as PREMIUM TIMES continued to scrutinise the over 11 million Mossack Fonseca documents contained in the sleaze dossier now known worldwide as the Panama Papers.
Documents show that Clerkenwell Management Limited is “an entity 100% owned by the Belo-Osagie Trust 2 (the “Trust”)”.
However, Mr. Belo-Osagie is not listed as a trustee. The trustee of this Trust is a company named Chesham Limited which registered office is given as 13 Castle Street, St. Helier, Jersey JE4 5UT, Channel Islands.
Chesham Limited was incorporated in Jersey on September 7, 2007, with registered number 98642.
It has as its directors Charles Guy Malet de Carteret, Christopher John Blunt, Hugh Duncan Cathcart, Simon Paul Alan Brewer and Wendy Joy Burnett. These people appear to be nominee directors.
In tax havens arrangement, nominee directors are usually used as fronts for beneficial owners of entities.
Mr. Belo-Osagie “of 21 Ikoyi Crescent, Ikoyi Lagos Island, Nigeria” is listed in the documents as the settlor of the Trust .
The Etisalat chairman and his Ghanaian wife, Myma, are named as beneficiaries of the Trust.
But in a convoluted and confusing legal arrangements, the same documents which described the couple as “settlor” and “beneficiaries”, state that Mr. Belo-Osagie and his wife “are not direct owners and are members of a discretionary class of beneficiaries. The ultimate controlling party is the Trustee (Chesham Limited).” That kind of arrangement and claim, PREMIUM TIMES has found, are in line with offshore shell companies practices where things are never straightforward.
But further checks by this newspaper revealed that Chesham Limited is in turn 100 per cent owned by Sanne Fiduciary Services Limited.
Sanne Fiduciary Services and Chesham Limited share the same land address of 13 Castle Street, St. Helier, Jersey JE4 5UT, Channel Islands.
Sanne Fiduciary is the trustee of yet another Trust known as the Belo-Osagie Purpose Trust. This Trust was established by Mr. Belo-Osagie on November 6, 2007, exactly two months after Chesham Limited was incorporated. The initial property for the entity was provided by Mr. Belo-Osagie.
The offshore sister companies are Airport Square Trust in Jersey and Tamerlaine Limited in British Virgin Island.
These companies, working with Belo-Osagie Purpose Trust, have business activities such as “Investment in Ghana Airport City Development Limited.”
Myma Belo-Osagie is the beneficial owner of Tamerlaine.
If the legal documentations appear a jigsaw puzzle, one piece of paper graciously serves as the smoking gun. On the source of funds transferred to the Trust, the document unequivocally stated that “All funds settled into the Trust originated from Mr. Belo-Osagie.”
The document went further to clarify that:
“Mr. Belo-Osagie received funds from consultancy work in Nigeria and these were placed in a Liechtenstein structure. A proportion of these funds were invested in UBA, a Nigerian bank.”
The nature of consultancy undertaken by the businessman was not indicated.
The document however added, “The shares in the bank were subsequently sold at a substantial profit through Afrinvest, an FSA regulated broker based in the UK. These funds make up the bulk of wealth transferred to the Trust.”
Tax authorities the world over view Liechtenstein with a certain level of notoriety and suspicion.
The Liechtenstein structure or Liechtenstein-based arrangements are generally marketed to wealthy individuals to avoid or evade tax obligations in their home countries.
The promoter may provide a paper trail of documents that leads nowhere as the documents do not reflect substance of transactions and the owner’s interest or involvement in the structure.
It was gathered that a special-purpose fund is separate from the assets of its founder and forms the assets of the Trust or Foundation from then on; as such, the owner does not pay tax on them.
A Liechtenstein structure has no members, partners or shareholders. The owner directly or indirectly transfers assets to the structure. The assets may include cash and investments in term of deposits, bonds or equities, which may themselves consist of undisclosed income or gains from another country.
The structure then uses the assets to generate passive income, which is retained by the structure. The owner and/or his associates ultimately reap the economic benefits from the structure, often in a disguised form. The structure may be used as a holding company for other entities in which the owner has interests.
Mr. Belo-Osagie’s father, Professor Sunmonu Belo-Osagie, was the gynecologist to the family of former Nigerian military president, Ibrahim Babangida. His family’s connections with the military in the 1980s was a springboard for his appointments as a Special Assistant to the Presidential Adviser on Petroleum and Energy and later as Special Assistant to the Minister of Petroleum and Energy, positions he admitted in interviews opened for him his first road to fortune.
In 1998, he acquired a controlling stake in UBA and became the bank’s Chairman. But the businessman, who is one of the sponsors of a new $120 million shopping mall currently being developed in Jabi Lake Abuja, was in 2004 forced out of UBA by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) following a complaint by US authorities.
In 2002, UBA, under Mr. Belo-Osagie, became the focus of a CBN probe over money laundering and foreign exchange abuses.
The sum of $2.5 million had fraudulently been withdrawn from the US Treasury by one Neil A. Smith. The money was laundered in tranches to various banks for further disbursement to designated banks in different parts of the world.
Of the sum, $350,000 was wired in September 1999 into the account of a Nigerian company, Zamora Nigeria Limited, at the New York office of the UBA.
Investigators by the US Secret Service tracked the money and consequently froze the Zamora account. The Service also uncovered some other fraudulent transfers received by Zamora for further credit to the accounts of some companies in Nigeria. Zamora was found to have been floated by insiders within the UBA.
In trying to unmask the owners of Zamora, the CBN discovered that although the name of Mr. Belo-Osagie’s father did not feature in any of the company’s documents at the Corporate Affairs Commission, it came up as a director of the company in money transfer returns of July 8, 1999 to the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
Five months later, two proxy directors of Zamora, Messrs Ovie Ukiri and Olasupo Sasore, held an extraordinary general meeting, tendered their resignation letters to themselves, accepted their own resignation and in the same breath appointed Mr. and Mrs. Ahonkhai as the new directors, subsequently transferring the company’s shares to the couple.
The new directors were found by the CBN to be resident in the United Kingdom and were neither aware of their appointments as directors nor of their new status as shareholders in Nigeria. The couple’s signatures on Zamora documents were found to have been forged.
Promoters of Mr. Belo-Osagie’s activities in Channel Islands admit in the secret documents that the bulk of the wealth transferred to the Trust came from UBA shares sold at substantial profit.
Although the UBA Chairman is not known to have ever participated in shares racketeering, shares purchase manipulation was rife in the banking industry leading to a bubble in 2008.
Not a few managing directors and directors of banks were found culpable by the Investment and Security Tribunal in the stock market bubble that led to the near collapse of Nigeria’s capital market.
Loans were obtained from foreign banks and with the funds the directors initiated a scheme that resulted in the local banks funding the purchase of their own shares. As artificial high prices of shares set in, unsuspecting investors chase after these shares which are quickly off-loaded leading to great losses to genuine investors.
Mr. Belo-Osagie was contacted on Saturday to comment for this story. He initially did not answer or return calls. But he replied a text message on Sunday, saying he would revert. He gave no time frame.
When the reporter told him he had a deadline, the businessman said, “I have been a private businessman for 30 years. I must have created or used well over 300 or 400 companies abroad and in Nigeria over that period. There is no way I can give you accurate information on two company names over a weekend when I have no access to company or legal records. Your midnight deadline is impossible.”
Hakeem Belo-Osagie (in his own words) is either famous or infamous, depending on the audience. The warm welcome he received when taking to the stage at the evening Gala of the Wharton Africa Business Forum (WABF) 2015 made it strikingly obvious which the 600 strong audience considered him to be. Amongst the audience of Wharton MBA students and alumni, students from other prestigious universities, and esteemed young professionals, we had the honour of being party to a keynote speech delivered by Mr Belo-Osagie.
For those of you who are unaware, Belo-Osagie is the chairman of Etisalat Nigeria and was previously Chairman of The United Bank for Africa. He is also a philanthropist, being among the largest donors to the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, and having an endowment fund for the promotion of Africa at Yale. According to Forbes, Belo-Osagie is also the forty-first richest man in Africa in 2014. “For those of you who want to ask about my wealth – I have not done so badly” he tells us, pre-empting the inevitable question. However you would not guess this to observe him as he stops to take photos with participants, giving them permission to tell him off if he does not speedily respond to their emails.
During his time at WABF, Belo-Osagie came across as tremendously humble, warming the audience with his calm demeanor and self-deprecation. Before speaking of his ‘Africa Story’ he expresses his delight of being asked to address a group of young people who, in his words, “had nothing better to do on a Saturday night!” Perhaps one of the most sought after men in the world for his opinion on all things Africa, Belo-Osagie insists that he is not so listened to at home! He jokes that his wife does not take his business advice, his second daughter stopped listening to him when she started working for McKinsey, that his third daughter stopped listening when she went to Yale, and that his son has never listened to him!
The theme of the conference was ‘My Africa Story’, and Belo-Osagie speaks poetically as he recounts his, beginning with his time studying. After completing a Law degree at Cambridge University, he achieved an MA in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University. In 1978, he studied for his MBA at Harvard as the only black student among the 800 students. He jests about the Arab and Middle Eastern Society taking pity on his lone self, inviting him to join; before long they invited him to become the Vice President of the Society! Having faced the challenges of being the only black student, Belo-Osagie expresses how impressed he is to see the progress that has been made, as he stood in front of 600 high calibre (and mostly black) students, alumni and young professionals.
“I’m always suspicious of stories when people’s lives go according to plan!”
Belo-Osagie continues his story by telling us about the many hurdles he faced when embarking on, and then during, his professional career. “I’m always suspicious of stories when people’s lives go according to plan!” he tells us, believing that often, chance and indeed failure play a big part in success.
Belo-Osagie’s early career did not go quite according to plan. Having received 47 rejections from his 50 job applications at Harvard, he went back to Nigeria with, he says, no focus or direction. “There’s life after rejection” Belo-Osagie insists, empowering us to persevere, even through what seem to be the darkest of times.
“There’s life after rejection”
Upon taking a job with the Federal Government of Nigeria, Belo-Osagie became the lowest paid member of the Harvard MBA class of 1980. His pay was so low that his salary was classified as by Harvard as ‘voluntary work’! Nonetheless, Belo-Osagie cites his time in Government as the best years of his life. His recount of this time is marked with many anecdotes of hazard-ridden situations. One example is when the Government was overthrown whilst he was on holiday in Ivory Coast. He recounts his alarm when his wife (then girlfriend) told him to listen to BBC, where there was an announcement that all Government ministers and Special Advisers (which included him) should report themselves to Government for arrest! Belo-Osagie was fortunate enough to be one of only two individuals re-elected to government. To this good fortune he owes his mind-set of being “good to everyone you meet”, as you never know when the relationship will be of service to you.
In addition to his job application rejections whilst at Harvard, Belo-Osagie provided additional examples of ‘failure’ in his repertoire. He tells us that he only became an entrepreneur after his attempts to become a lawyer failed; when his best friend needed a partner for his new law firm, it was decided that his wife was a better candidate for the role than he was!
Despite the success of his first business venture in petroleum consulting, his second venture in finance was a resounding failure. Belo-Osagie admits that he “hated” the subject at University, so his foray into the area was quite ironic. He takes a majority (‘80-90%’) of the blame for the multi-million dollar loss of the business in 1990, but cites it as the best thing to have happened to him. “Never be afraid of failure”, he advises us.
“Never be afraid of failure.”
“Don’t listen to the voice that tells you to be ‘realistic’.”
Of course no Business School keynote address would be complete without the obligatory list of lessons! Belo-Osagie offers the following:
- Be bold… don’t hesitate… go for it! “Don’t listen to the voice that tells you to be ‘realistic’,” he warns, asserting that this voice is essentially telling you to reduce your ambition. In response to individuals who advise that life be taken one step at a time, he makes parallels to walking towards the end a cliff, which has another cliff ahead of it. In such a case, he warns, it would be unwise to walk across. In such a case, one must leap!
- “Act with the confidence that your education has entitled you to act with.” Life is uncertain, he says, but we should keep on “walking through fog”, even if we cannot see the end of it.
- “Failure will happen… it’s the precursor of future success”. Belo-Osagie advises that when we are caught in a storm, we should “dance in the storm” and persevere. And when all else fails, we should consider “the proverbial swan” that looks calm above the water, but is in fact frantically paddling its feet beneath the surface!
- Have courage. Belo-Osagie tells us that courage is not the absence of fear – stupidity is! Rather, courage is experiencing fear but not allowing it to paralyse us.
“Failure will happen… it’s the precursor of future success.”
Seize the Opportunity
“I can’t believe how sexy Africa is now!”
In considering the opportunities in Africa, which Belo-Osagie considers to be huge, he reflects on how during his time, he has witnessed a change in the perception of doing business with Africa. He talks of his earlier days in finance, when at pitches he spent much of his time convincing investors and potential partners that Africa is not in fact a country, answering the frequent “How stable is your country now?” question, and absorbing the feedback from investors that despite how adventurous they were, “Africa is a stretch.” “I can’t believe how sexy Africa is now!” he jests.
Belo-Osagie is excited about what the current generation of young business people and leaders can achieve, and urges us to seize our opportunities. He talks not just of opportunity, but also of responsibility. Among his many calls for action, Belo-Osagie reflects on the responsibility/possibility of our generation to create the large African corporations of the future, comparing it to his generation’s responsibility and accomplishments of creating large national corporations, and those of his parents’ generation in securing African independence. Belo-Osagie is in fact confident that our generation will do better than his (no pressure then!), defining this as the very definition of civilisation.
“You will be measured not by what you succeeded in, but by the scale of what you attempted.”
Belo-Osagie goes so far as to write the end of his African Story. In the evening of his life, he tells us, he sees himself on a veranda rocking chair, soaked by colourful memories of battles fought, won and lost. He urges us to live our lives so that we may be able to do the same, rather than reminisce about the opportunities missed. “You will be measured not by what you succeeded in, but by the scale of what you attempted.”
To end this poetic tale, of the past, present and future, Belo-Osagie ends with a quote from Robert Herrick, popularised by the Robin Williams film, Dead Poets Society: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”, adding the line from the film: “Seize the day [boys], make your lives extraordinary”.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may… Seize the day [boys], make your lives extraordinary”.