Previous editions of Private Eye magazine have exposed various foreign ministers and officials ploughing dubious fortunes into UK property using shell companies in tax havens. Now a US court case detailing allegations of money laundering and cabinet-level corruption in the former government of Nigeria reveals that when it comes to hiding hot money, this route remains a firm favourite.
The US Department of Justice launched a civil lawsuit last month to seize $144m in assets including an $82m super yacht, artwork and luxury properties, branding them the fruits of an alleged bribery scheme involving Diezani Alision-Madueke, the former oil minister who ran the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in the corruption-soaked regime of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Prosecutors allege that between 2011 and 2015, two Nigerian oil tycoons, Kola Aluko and Olajide Omokore, conspired with others “to obtain lucrative business opportunities in the Nigerian oil and gas sector in return for corruptly offering and giving millions of dollars’ worth of gifts and benefits” to Alison-Madueke. Aluko and Omokore are said to have “used a series of shell companies and layered financial financial to conceal the nature, location, source, and/or ownership of the proceeds of the unlawful conduct”.
The civil complaint alleges how over three months in 2011 – while Aluko and Omokore were negotiating a $1.5bn oil deal with Alision-Madueke (that she subsequently awarded them) – the oil tycoons spent millions of pounds acquiring luxury property in and around London for the oil minister. In January 2011 Omokore bought a £3.3m mansion in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, through Seychelles company Miranda International Ltd. Aluko took charge of refurbishments and was careful to do so discreetly; contractors on the site were only told they were working for “the Madam”.
Two months later, Aluko bought a £1.7m mews property in Chester Close North, a cul-de-sac by Regent’s Park, London, through British Virgin Islands company Mortlake Investments Ltd, and again set out on a lavish refurbishment, installing an elevator and stone flooring (this property was later sold, but not before Aluko furnished it with exercise machines worth £11,000 from Harrods).
Four days later, on 28 March 2011, Aluko bought a £2.8m flat in Harley House, a swanky Edwardian apartment block near Madame Tussauds, using another Seychelles company, Rosewood Investments Ltd. Again, the flat was decked out to the oil minister’s tastes; Aluko emailed her the plans. The following day, Aluko bought a fourth property for her, a £3.7m pad in Park View, an apartment block also by Regent’s Park, through Collinwood Ltd, yet another Seychelles company. The property was part-financed with a loan from the UK branch of First Bank Nigeria and, again, was lavishly refurbished. All her properties were frozen last September by the Crown Prosecution Service under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
“Fantastically corrupt” was how David Cameron described Nigeria at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London last year, prompting a retort from Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari that Britain ought to do more to ensure the “return of assets” stolen from his country by corrupt officials. As the last edition of Private Eye noted, government plans to force owners of properties acquired through overseas companies to declare who they are on a public register are moving at snail’s pace. The case of Alison-Madueke illustrates that until these and other measures are implemented, London’s property market will remain the home of the world’s dubious wealth.
A version of this article first appeared in the current edition of Private Eye magazine.