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Pandora papers: From Congo to Zimbabwe, the implicated African leaders

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Thursday, 7 October 2021 14:08, updated on Monday, 11 October 2021 11:08

Kenya Pandora Papers
Kenyans read the papers reporting a statement by President Uhuru Kenyatta following reports that he is among more than 330 current and former politicians identified as beneficiaries of secret financial accounts, in the low-income Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

The Pandora Papers, the latest offshore leak investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), has implicated many African politicians – 49 to be exact - from Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to Gabon’s President Ali Bongo. In this roundup, we focus on five current politicians with secret links to offshore companies, and the implications of these revelations.

Denis Sassou-Nguesso – President, Republic of Congo

Sassou-Nguesso seized power after a civil war in 1997 and has remained in control ever since.

The Papers show the president owned a company that controlled diamond mines. Like most powerful figures exposed in the investigation, the ICIJ shows the lengths that Sassou-Nguesso went to hide his involvement in the company. Inter African Investment was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 1998, with an account at the London branch of Banque Espirito Santo.

Under its ownership was another BVI company, Ecoplan Finance Ltd. One of Sassou-Nguesso’s daughters, Julienne, served on Ecoplan’s board of directors. According to the ICIJ, Ecoplan owns the majority of shares in Escom Congo, a construction and real estate firm, which holds the rights to diamond mines in the country.

Diamond mining in Congo-Brazzaville has had its share of controversy. In 2004, the country was excluded from the Kimberley Process – a procedure to protect conflict diamonds from the mainstream market – following allegations that exports were being smuggled out of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Uhuru Kenyatta – President, Kenya

Seven members of the Kenyatta family, a dynasty that has shaped Kenyan politics since the country’s independence, are linked to at least seven offshore companies and foundations, according to documents seen by the ICIJ.

The family, through shell companies, bought several properties through Alcogal to hide their extensive investment portfolio, whilst Kenyatta positions himself as a leader who stands against corruption.

Through Union Banque Privée (UBP), the Kenyattas set up three foundations to avoid inheritance tax and hide their extensive wealth. The foundations were suspended after failing to pay annual taxes, law firm Algocal says.

Kenyatta responded to the Pandora Papers on Monday 4 October through State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena.

He said: “These reports will go a long way in enhancing the financial transparency and openness that we require in Kenya and around the globe. The movement of illicit funds, proceeds of crime, and corruption thrive in an environment of secrecy and darkness.”

Patrick Achi – President, Côte d’Ivoire

Achi opened Allstar Consultancy Services Ltd in the Bahamas in 1998, a year after his political start as an advisor to the country’s minister of energy.

His ownership of the company was through a trust agreement and thus, his name has – until now – been obscured from public record. In 2006, during his tenure as minister for economic infrastructure, Achi transferred the management of the company to Alcogal in the Bahamas.

Achi’s office has denounced what it terms as the “malicious use” of the information [in the Pandora Papers], which reportedly dates back to the 1990s.

Martin Rushwaya – Presidential Advisor, Zimbabwe

Leaked documents show the presidential advisor and cousin of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was linked to the diamond mining industry.

According to the ICIJ, during his time as defence secretary, Rushwaya opened a shell company using a Moscow law firm, with Zimbabwean army colonel Grey Mashava as its sole director. He was also a shareholder in another company owned by a Moscow citizen, Olga Bakina.

In 2012, the company was reported to the Seychelles Financial Intelligence Unit by their offshore provider, Alpha Consulting Ltd. The Pandora papers identify Rushwaya as the director of a diamond-mining company that “camouflaged the involvement of security forces” and was involved in “off-budget” financing. The same year, Rushwaya also became a member of the executive board of a Zimbabwean-Chinese joint venture that was touted as one of the world’s largest diamond mining companies.

Zimbabwe’s mining industry has long been suspected of corruption, most prominently with the company Anjin investments, a joint venture between a Chinese company, Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Co. Ltd., and Matt Bronze Enterprises, which was formed by the Zimbabwean defence ministry. The company has come under scrutiny for diamond smuggling and human rights abuses, as diamond mining widens the gap between government and citizens.

In 2007, Rushwaya was also implicated as part of a $200m farm mechanisation scheme, which offered farmers equipment on a rent-to-buy basis. The scheme was written off as corrupt, as many senior political officials gave themselves farming implements, which were then written off. Rushwaya is noted as owing $84,543.

Nour El Fath Azali – Private Advisor to the President, Comoros

Nour El Fath Azali is an advisor to his father Assoumani Azali, the president of Comoros. It’s a position that has attracted both criticism and popularity, as he is touted to be the next president. As a result, he is often in the upper echelons of senior officials and the chief of staff.

The Pandora Papers show that Azali owns Olifants Ltd, a company within the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Whilst its purpose remains unknown, the company received invoices in 2018, and 2019, when he became an advisor to his father.

In 2020, he was part of high-level talks between Comoros and the UAE, an important economic donor for the country.

Azali responded to ICIJ’s investigation, during an interview with National Magazine Comores, saying that the company was created before his foray into politics. According to him, Olifants Ltd. was a consulting and advisory service, but he closed it in 2019 and the company never had any business. “The UAE is the centre of the world,” Azali said, as quoted by the ICIJ.

Comoros has been tied to the UAE since 2006, when businessman Bashar Kiwan and former President Abdallah Sambi created a ‘golden visa’ like-passport scheme through investment, to secure citizenship for 4,000 stateless Bidoon families.

The scheme was criticised by Comorian politicians for taking advantage of the country, one of the poorest in the world, to cater to rich businessmen. The scheme became a gateway to corruption, and Kiwan and Sambi are accused of embezzlement, fraud, and misuse of public funds.

Jim Muhwezi – Security Minister, Uganda

The former lawyer and military officer recently regained power in June as Uganda’s security minister, whilst recapturing his seat as MP for Rujumbura County. As a former guerrilla army commander, Muhwezi served as Uganda’s spy chief before being elected to parliament in 1986.

ICIJ’s offshore leak shows that Muhwezi had a stake in two offshore shell companies, including Audley Holdings Ltd, which managed bank accounts in Europe. In 2015, the company was sued by an Israeli businessman to dispute a transfer of shares into its partner company, Audley Ltd. The holding company was closed in 2016 for unpaid registration fees.

However, in 2018, Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal) reported Muhwezi and his company to BVI regulators for suspicious activity.

Muhwezi also owned Sukari Loma Investment Holdings Ltd, which was created in Cyprus in 2013 through the offshore provider SFM. The ICIJ reports that the company provided ‘financial services’; this is according to Muhwezi, who said that the funds came from ‘salary savings’, his hotel and radio stations.

This is not the first time Muhwezi has come under fire for his financial dealings. In 2007, Muhwezi and Alex Kamugisha were accused of embezzling USh1.6bn ($448,260), which was meant for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) – an organisation currently overseeing the COVAX initiative. He was acquitted due to lack of evidence.

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