By Purity Mukami and Simon Bowers

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family, the political dynasty that has dominated Kenyan politics since independence, for many years secretly owned a web of offshore companies in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, according to a new leak of documents known as the Pandora Papers.

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by Simon Bowers

Finance Uncovered in October 2021 revealed a series of secret offshore entities set up for the family of Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta. The investigation was part of a global collaboration, organised by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in which more than 600 journalists sifted through a leak of almost 12 million files, known as the Pandora Papers.

The documents came from 14 law firms and incorporation agents that specialise in creating secrecy companies in places such as the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the Seychelles. 

Below we publish redacted copies of a small number of Pandora Papers documents, as well as other important evidence, which together helped form the basis of reporting by Finance Uncovered, Africa Uncensored, the ICIJ and many other media outlets.

Varies Foundation

The first is a copy (unsigned) of regulations for Varies Foundation, a Panamanian entity set up in 2003 for the benefit of Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the president’s now 88 year old mother. On her death, the document explains, the assets were to pass to her son Uhuru Kenyatta:

Paperwork for Varies Foundation, filed with the Panamanian company registry, looks quite different. There is no mention of the Kenyattas at all. Instead, all of the foundation’s officers are actually employees of specialist offshore law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee — or Alcogal, for short:

Criselle Foundation

Less than a month before Varies was formed, another Panamanian foundation was set up, this time for the benefit of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s younger brother, Muhoho Kenyatta. It was called Criselle Foundation. On his death, the assets were to pass to his infant son Jomo:

As with Varies, publicly accessible paperwork for Criselle Foundation made no mention of the Kenyattas. Rather, it gives the names of nominees — all of whom are Alcogal staffers — as the  foundations’s officers:

Milrun International Ltd

In 1999, a company called Milrun International Ltd was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, with Mama Ngina as a minority shareholder and the remaining shares split between two of her daughters. But the company’s register of members shows that this later changed. First, all three Kenyatta women transferred shares to a Panamanian entity called Valberg Foundation. Then, Valberg, in turn, switched half of its shares to yet another Panamanian entity called Maclay Foundation:

Though the three Kenyatta woman no were no longer the immediate shareholders in Milrun after transferring their shares to Valberg Foundation, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sisters Christine and Anna still remained in ultimate control of of the company, as the following Alcogal documents show:

In total, Finance Uncovered’s investigations found 11 offshore entities linked to the Kenyattas. What assets most of them held, if any, is a mystery. But one asset our investigations were able to identify was an apartment in London, bought by Milrun in 2000 for £280,000. Today it has an estimated value of close to £1 million. Below is a redacted version of a document obtained from the UK Land Registry. It shows Milrun as the owner of the London apartment:

The biggest asset that Pandora Papers reporters were able to say was owned by one of the Kenyatta family through an offshore company was a portfolio of stocks and shares that were valued at $31.6 million in 2016. The paperwork for BVI company Hawkings International Limited gives the details:

Before publishing its investigation, Finance Uncovered repeatedly asked the Kenyattas why they had set up complex corporate structures in some of the world’s top secrecy havens, how much money they had taken offshore and where that money came from. We also asked whether they still used the entities and if so what assets they currently contain. 

No-one acknowledged or responded to our letters, emails, phone calls and texts. 

Only after our findings were published did President Kenyatta issue a statement. In it, he insisted that he welcomed the Pandora Papers investigation into his family’s activities using offshore companies. 

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.”

He added: “Follow up audits will lift that veil of secrecy and darkness for those who can not explain their assets or wealth.”

*Graphic by Clement Kumalija

*Editing by Ted Jeory and Nick Mathiason

By Simon Bowers, Lionel Faull and Purity Mukami

A Finance Uncovered graphic (below) reveals a wave of cash flooding into London property from elite Nigerian politicians and business figures using offshore secrecy vehicles.

The interactive visualisation, produced using data leaked in the Pandora Papers and other similar investigations, offers a further indication that there was a mushrooming of UK property purchases by Nigerian-owned offshore companies.

In the last three decades at least 233 houses and apartments were bought by 166 such companies with a combined worth today of £350 million.

Behind these companies were 137 wealthy and influential Nigerians, according to an investigation by Finance Uncovered and Premium Times.

The bulk of purchases happened between 2010 and 2015 when Goodluck Jonathan was president of Nigeria. Jonathan’s government has been accused of allowing corruption to run rampant. He has always strongly defended his record in office and denied any wrongdoing.

Zoom in and hover on the graphic for details

Graphic

The Pandora Papers is a massive leak from firms that specialise in setting up offshore companies in territories such as the British Virgin Islands and Panama. The leaked documents have allowed journalists from all over the world to lift the corporate veil and reveal the companies’ true owners. The project was organised and led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

It is not against the law to secretly buy British properties using anonymous offshore companies. Finance Uncovered has seen no evidence in the Pandora Papers that money used to buy houses or apartments in the UK represents the proceeds of corruption or other criminality.

Indeed, many specialist advisers have routinely recommended clients invest in this manner to legally avoid tax.

Journalists from the BBC, The Guardian and Finance Uncovered, spent months matching the names of company owners found in the Pandora Papers with UK Land Registry records to discover who really bought hundreds of UK properties. 

In addition, Finance Uncovered then teamed up with Premium Times to apply similar analysis to previous data leaks, including the Panama Papers and FinCEN FIles. 

The result is the most comprehensive dataset ever published focusing on rich and powerful Nigerians who have secretly bought UK property. 

Stella Oduah

The property owners include Nigeria’s former aviation minister Stella Oduah. Now 59, she served under Jonathan from 2011 until 2014 when she resigned amid serious corruption allegations, which she has denied.

Oduah (pictured above) was never charged on those allegations. But she has since been indicted on separate money laundering offences relating to an alleged fraud. Oduah, who remains a senator, has always denied accusations of wrongdoing. 

Our investigation suggests she secretly bought London property. 

We have seen a confidential US suspicious activity report by Deutsche Bank. It suggested that a company owned by Oduah made a suspicious payment of almost $72,000 to a London property broker in 2012.

A search of Land Registry records then showed that one month later another company, registered in the Seychelles, paid £5.3 million for a London townhouse. 

The Seychelles company shared a name with another one owned by the Oduah family. 

We asked the former minister and the London property broker to confirm that Oduah, her family or associates, were involved in buying the London property but neither responded.

The Deutsche Bank suspicious activity report is part of the FinCEN Files, a leak of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with other journalists through the ICIJ. 

It is not known whether any further action was taken as a result of the suspicious activity report.

Mohammed Bello Koko

Another prominent figure whose property-owning company was discovered by reporters in the leaked data is Mohammed Bello Koko, 52, (pictured below) the finance director of the powerful Nigerian Ports Authority. He is also reportedly its acting managing director. 

For much of his career he worked in banking, including 10 years at Zenith Bank, where he rose to be a deputy general manager. 

Mohammed Bello-Koko

According to the Pandora Papers, Bello Koko and his wife were the anonymous owners behind two companies incorporated in the BVI.

Searches at the Land Registry showed that these companies bought five London properties between 2009 and 2017, for a combined total of almost £1.5 million. One of the properties has since been sold.

Elsewhere in the Pandora Papers, a 2017 letter from law enforcement officials in the BVI requested information about these BVI companies — together with seven others — in relation to an investigation into financial offences, including money laundering.

Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), the BVI registered agent for the companies, wrote back saying: “To the best of our knowledge, these companies do not have any assets or bank accounts held in their name.”  

Asked why it had not mentioned the UK properties, Alcogal explained that it was only obliged to provide law enforcement officials with the information that it holds in its records.

Finance Uncovered and Premium Times wrote to Bello Koko and his wife but they did not respond. 

We have seen no evidence that law enforcement enquiries in the BVI led to further action against Bello Koko, his wife or their property owning companies.

Anonymous ownership

Lanre Suraju, chair of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (Heda Resources Centre), a Nigerian anti-corruption campaign group: “For a country that is incapable of providing electricity and decent roads without external financial support, and which depends on a combination of foreign loans and aid to supply potable water and public education, it is galling to discover such a humongous outflow of Nigeria capital to London, all concealed via the use of offshore companies. “

For more than five years, under three different Conservative Party prime ministers, the British government has been promising to make the names of offshore property owners public as part of wider efforts to end anonymous ownership. But it has failed to do so. 

Rachel Davies Teka, head of advocacy at Transparency international, said: “This investigation shows it remains all too easy for those with suspicious wealth to acquire property in the UK whilst hiding their identities using opaque offshore companies. Not only does this harm the countries where suspect funds are siphoned from, but it damages Britain’s reputation as a hub for global commerce.”

For privacy reasons, Finance Uncovered is not publishing or mapping the names of the owners or locations of specific properties.

*Contributing research to this investigation: Taiwo Adebayo, Nicholas Ibekwe and Musikilu Mojeed.

*Main photo: Visualisation built with Flourish.

*Story edited by Nick Mathiason and Ted Jeory

By Lionel Faull and Ted Jeory

Embattled Kenyan betting giant SportPesa has “disputed” the astonishing Sh95 billion (£633 million) total that the Kenya Revenue Authority says it owes in unpaid taxes.

The figure, reported by the Daily Nation newspaper in January, is thought to be one of the biggest amounts ever claimed from a company by the Kenyan tax collector. 

The Daily Nation article was based on a leaked letter from the KRA to SportPesa’s main entity in Kenya, Pevans East Africa, in which it detailed its findings from a preliminary audit of the company’s tax affairs from 2015 to 2019.

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By Simon Bowers and Martin Bright.

British oil major BP paid $100 million to cancel a shipyard construction project in Angola only for a third of the money to be promised to a Panamanian company run by a powerful and allegedly corrupt Angolan official, according to whistle-blower documents seen by Finance Uncovered.

The documents shine new light on the enormous influence of oil executives at the top of Angola’s state-owned oil company Sonangol, who have for decades acted as gatekeepers to Sub-Saharan Africa’s second largest hydrocarbon reserves.

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Over the course of 18 months, Naipanoi Lepapa, a freelance investigative journalist from Nairobi, who attended a Finance Uncovered training course in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2019, delved into the murky world of surrogacy in Kenya.

Working with several vulnerable women who had acted as surrogate mothers for mainly international clients, Naipanoi uncovered worrying allegations about how the industry operated in her home country.

These ranged from coercion, exploitation and intimidation of surrogates, apparent human trafficking of birth mothers and children, forced abortions and identity forgery and fraud.

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Mohammad Bassiki, an exiled Syrian journalist and founder of investigative news site Siraj, attended our London illicit finance training in September 2018. During his week in London, Moha mentioned story ideas he thought we could help him pursue.

A few months later, having obtained a Money Trail grant from the Journalismfund.eu, Mo returned to London and together in our office, we developed some leads.

We focused on the Syria president, Bashar Al-Assad’s efforts to reconstruct the country after a brutal civil war had seen an estimated 6.2 million people internally displaced.

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On Monday, renowned Bangladesh investigative journalist, Rozina Islam was arrested and detained on allegations of stealing confidential official documents and espionage.

Rozina is a senior correspondent for Prothom Alo, a leading daily national newspaper in Bangladesh. For the past month, she had been reporting on corruption and mismanagement in the health sector – a vital public interest endeavour.

We, at Finance Uncovered, were lucky enough to meet Rozina when she attended our Investigating Illicit Finance training in 2018.

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On December 3, 2019, the UK’s National Crime Agency announced a £190 million out-of-court civil settlement with Malik Riaz, an enormously wealthy and controversial property tycoon from Pakistan. It was the largest settlement ever made by the NCA, which added that the outcome did “did not represent a finding of guilt”.

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