What are the Paradise Papers?
The Paradise Papers is a special investigation by the Guardian and 95 media partners worldwide into a leak of 13.4m files from two offshore service providers and 19 tax havens’ company registries. The files reveal the offshore financial affairs of some of the world’s biggest multinational companies and richest individuals, and set out the myriad ways in which tax can be avoided using artificial structures.
The governor of Nigeria’s central bank
Godwin Emefiele was a career banker before his appointment as governor of Nigeria’s central bank in June 2014. He was on Appleby’s list of politically exposed persons (PEPs) among its clients.
His lawyer has confirmed that until July this year he remained the co-owner of an offshore company with a foreign bank account. The company was part of an Isle of Man aviation scheme. Emefiele says this was because of an “administrative oversight of the company”, which was not his fault and was outside his control.
Any continued interest in the 49% of the shares of Oviation Asset Management Ltd, which was registered in Bermuda and held an account with UBS in London, would be a breach of the Nigerian code of conduct for public officials.
The code states officials “shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria”. Oviation was part of a structure that imported two jets via the Isle of Man. The latest purchase, a $50m Gulfstream G550, arrived in November 2015. It replaced a $33m Gulfstream G450, imported in 2013.
Oviation’s co-owner, with 51% of the shares, was Jim Ovia, the founder of Nigeria’s Zenith bank. Emefiele was Zenith’s chief executive until he took up his post as governor and the jet leasing companies were set up while he worked for Ovia.
In his role as governor, Emefiele is responsible for regulating and licensing Nigeria’s banks, including Zenith. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, he was required to cut all financial ties to his former boss.
Emefiele says he did this in May 2014 and gave instructions for his shares to be handed back to the bank. He says he had no further involvement with the jet leasing scheme and no role in operating its bank accounts.
At no time, according to his lawyer, did Emefiele have a “personal bank account” offshore or “personal financial benefit” from his shares in any of the companies involved.
Through his lawyers Ovia said no funds of Zenith bank were used to acquire the aircraft. They said Oviation would not have reclaimed any VAT without advice from accountants – and if that advice changed, any VAT reclaimed would be repaid.
Appleby have declined to comment on individual clients.
This report was first published in the Guardian.