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Former Central Bank of Nigeria governor’s £33m British property empire

6 March 2019

The current edition of the UK’s investigative journalism magazine, Private Eye, has a story called “Abuja on Thames” about a former CBN governor’s property portfolio.

It states that: “The family of a former central banker of Nigeria who looted his country under its 1990s military dictatorship has amassed a £33m British property empire.”

It continues: “Paul Ogwuma, 86, was governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria during the brutal and kleptocratic rule of General Sani Abacha, when the bank was the latter’s personal piggy-bank. Some estimates suggest looting under Abacha ran to billions of dollars. Under his successor for one year, retired general Abdulsalami Abubakar (whose plundering was arguably even more intense) Ogwuma oversaw a depletion in Nigeria’s foreign currency reserves of around $3bn, or 40%”.

Paul Ogwuma

Abubakar, according to a source, donated $6m to a United States university in exchange for an honourary doctorate degree.

Private Eye magazine continued with: “Ogwuma, who reportedly signed off suspicious transfers from the bank, was eventually forced to cough up $10m personally.” It added: “…compaies run by his wife Anna (who had no obvious source of wealth of her own) began buying property in the UK.”

The magazine “has identified a network of 15 British companies owned or controlled by Anna Ogwuma. Between 2002 and 2017, her companies were used for 20 separate property purchases. They ranged from commercial sites in the north of England to luxury apartments in west London. Among them are townhouses in Kensington and Paddington, a couple of apartments in Mayfair, and premises in Bishop’s Stortford town centre that currently house a branch of Greggs.”

Premises owned by Mrs Ogwuma in Bishop’s Stortford

The report also states: “Although the Abacha era and its excesses are receding into history, banks that were often complicit at the time might be expected to know some of this history. Yet Mrs Ogwuma’s most valuable properties were either bought or remortgaged with loans from Barclays Bank (which handled $170m of Abacha’s ill-gotten wealth) and Lloyds Bank in the years after 2015.

“While times have moved on, so has the law on money laundering, and Mrs Ogwuma’s lavish property buying should have prompted questions about the origin of her money. The looting of Africa has a long legacy on the streets of Britain”.

On Monday British ministers pulled a financial services bill from Parliament fearing the government was almost certain to be defeated on an amendment that required Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to clamp down on money laundering. Anti-corruption campaigners believe public records of share ownership would restrict the use of anonymous offshore companies by terrorists, dictators, corrupt politicians and criminals. The British government is clearly not in favour of such moves to curtail money laundering, despite former prime minister labelling countries like Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt”.

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