Wednesday, June 26, 2019

British tax haven returning $270 million of Abacha loot

A trio of secretive British tax havens beloved of kleptocrats and money-launderers are facing unprecedented pressure to open their books.

Two influential backbench MPs, Labour’s Margaret Hodge and the Conservatives’ Andrew Mitchell, have been pushing an amendment that would force Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man to publish a public register revealing who actually owns the roughly 80,000 companies registered on them.

Anti-corruption activists allege that the three jurisdictions dotted around Britain’s coastline, known as the Crown Dependencies, are hotbeds for financial crime and tax evasion. They point to the family of Azerbaijan’s dictator Ilham Aliyev allegedly owning a $25 million house through an Isle of Man shell company, and the notorious wife of a jailed Azeri state banker holding a $28 million golf course through a Guernsey firm.

Last month, after a five-year court saga Jersey announced it was putting $268 million, which had been stashed in a Deutsche Bank account on the island by former Nigerian military dictator Sani Abacha, into an asset recovery fund that will eventually return the cash to Nigeria. The island’s solicitor general said the move showed “Jersey’s determination to deal with international financial crime more generally.”

The announcement was one of several actions taken by various actors seemingly in response to international scrutiny over the Crown Dependencies and other tax havens. The Abacha case dates back to US enforcement efforts under the Obama administration, but the Crown Dependencies only need look at Britain’s Caribbean tax havens—known as the Overseas Territories—to understand the threat posed by Hodge and Mitchell. Last year, the two former government ministers pushed through an amendment forcing the territories, which include the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands, to set up a public register by 2020.

Last week (June 19), all three Crown Dependencies promised of their own accord to set up corporate ownership registries. While transparency advocates say the islands aren’t moving as fast or comprehensively as they should, the move in itself is a win for Hodge and Mitchell. “This is [the Crown Dependencies] acting before Margaret Hodge attempted to do anything before Parliament,” says Ben Cowdock, a senior research officer at anti-corruption NGO Transparency International UK. “Rather than face some constant battle with the UK Parliament, they’ve decided to go of their own accord with this announcement.”

Banks have also stepped up their monitoring of accounts in the Crown Dependencies and other European tax havens. At the end of 2018, Lloyds Bank shuttered 8,000 accounts in Jersey, after their owners spent three years ignoring the bank’s questions about their identity, the Financial Times reported yesterday (paywall). HSBC, Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland have also tightened their questioning of customers on the island, according to the FT. Deutsche, which banked Abacha’s money, has warned (paywall) 1,000 of its customers that they may also lose their accounts.

By Max de Haldevang


Nigeria Football players owed bonuses and allowances

Nigeria's players are in dispute with the country's football federation in the build-up to their Africa Cup of Nations match against Guinea.

None of the Super Eagles players has received allowances or a $10,000 bonus.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is hoping to prevent a strike before the match in Egypt on Wednesday.

"My player [Ahmed Musa] couldn't attend the press conference today because they have a very important meeting," said coach Gernot Rohr.

"I just hope the situation can be resolved so we can focus on what we have in front of us."

The squad was an hour late for training on Tuesday and have not ruled out taking further action.

The financially stricken NFF, which receives its funding from the government, has denied it was responsible for the delay in paying the players' bonuses.

The BBC understands that the team, which has been together since early June, had received verbal assurances that they would be paid before the tournament kicked off this month.

Pay rows have often surrounded Nigerian teams, while players have boycotted training during important qualifiers or at major tournaments over unpaid fees.

Their 2014 World Cup campaign was affected by a bonus row, with players boycotting training before the last-16 fixture against France as they demanded their bonuses and appearance fees.

Nigeria's women's team - the Super Falcons - has twice been involved in sit-in protests at hotels in South Africa and in Abuja, Nigeria, to demand money owed to them, with their latest protest coming at the Women's World Cup in France.

By Oluwashina Okeleji


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

77 year old widow opens her doors to refugees

 When the insecurity in Cameroon’s restive western region forced Susan Agbo to leave her home, she did not know what lay ahead. All she knew was that she needed to get her eight grandchildren to a safer place. She found that safer place in Nigeria.

“When I came to Nigeria, I had no place to stay,” says Susan, who fled Cameroon nearly two years ago.

She struggled with homelessness for months, relying on the goodwill of the local Nigerian community for shelter.

“I was staying with people for a few weeks here and there and then I would leave and stay somewhere else for a month,” explains Susan, who is in her 60s.

Escalating violence in Cameroon has displaced hundreds of thousands of people within the country’s borders and forced about 37,000 more like Susan to seek safety in Nigeria.

The constant movement from one place to another, with her grandchildren in tow, was exhausting for the sickly grandmother who longed for a lasting solution to her situation.

Lucia Ikuru, who lives near Agbokim Waterfalls on the border with Cameroon, sympathized with Susan’s predicament and offered her shelter without a second thought.

“I saw she had run away and had no place to stay,” says the 77-year-old Nigerian widow. “I gave her a house and told her to stay there.”

Lucia’s large compound has several rooms that she has turned into shelters for other Cameroonian refugees including Susan.

“I try to help them, and whatever little I have, I give them,” adds Lucia.

Susan is grateful for the shelter, solace and friendship that she has found here and is especially grateful for the food that Lucia provides her grandchildren.

“When she cooks, she feeds my grandchildren and they eat. I am happy,” says Susan, adding that she has no means of supporting them herself.

She explains that due to the conflict, their parents’ whereabouts is unknown – a constant source of worry for her.

“I don’t know where they are since they ran away so now the children are here with me,” she says.

To keep her worries at bay, she talks to Lucia often, sitting with her in the courtyard and carving wooden sticks into toothbrushes and toothpicks to sell at the local market.

“I’m happy that I have her staying here with me,” says Lucia. “If something happened to her, I wouldn’t feel happy.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has launched an urgent appeal to increase support for displaced Cameroonians who have survived nearly two years of ongoing violence. But of the US$184 million required for UNHCR’s operations in Cameroon and Nigeria – including US$35.4 million needed urgently for critical life-saving assistance to newly displaced Cameroonians – just four per cent has been raised.

The majority of the refugees - over 50 per cent of the population - live in host communities in over 47 villages along the border. The support they receive from kind Nigerians like Lucia is crucial and reflective of the sense of solidarity that most refugees experience from their Nigerian hosts.

Susan hopes that the situation back home will improve so that she can return. But for now, she continues to adjust to life here and is grateful for Lucia’s kindness and that of the Nigerian people.

“I don’t know where I would have been,” she says. “I am happy because we are like friends.”

UNHCR continues to seek funding to provide basic assistance to refugees and carry out projects that empower the host communities, also in need.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Nigeria Women's World Cup squad protest due to unpaid wages

The World Cup journey for Nigeria is only partially over after being eliminated from the tournament by Germany in the round of 16 on Saturday.

Nigeria’s athletes had refused to leave their hotel and head home until all players have been paid their outstanding wages — including daily allowances while competing in France as well as bonuses owed from two years ago. According to ESPN, the members of the Nigerian team had previously only been paid half of the nearly $5,600, or two million Nigerian naira, owed from matches that took place in 2016 and 2017.

A deal was finally brokered between the Nigeria Football Federation and the women’s team that brought the sit-in to an end, however a complete resolution is still pending.

“They paid us 1 million [naira] and said that is all. We want them to pay the balance,” one player told ESPN before the team agreed to leave the hotel. “Part of that money is from two years ago, the other is from three years ago. And they are also owing us five days' daily allowance here in France.”

The Nigeria Football Federation previously disputed the claims, saying the players have been paid “everything they are being owed”, per president Amaju Pinnick, with the exception of the World Cup participation fee, which the tournament organizers are scheduled to pay out in September.

To end the protest, the team agreed to begin heading home as long as they received their bonuses on Monday.

Nigeria’s women’s team has protested over unpaid wages and bonuses on multiple occasions in the last two decades. In 2016, the team held a public rally in the Nigerian capital of Abuja due to unpaid allowances, while in 2004 the team held a similar sit-in at their hotel in South Africa until their allowances were paid. Both protests came after the team won the Africa Women Cup of Nations.

The athletes attempted to avoid another conflict on the world stage before traveling to France, telling ESPN they asked for a meeting with the federation to discuss bonuses as the men’s team did in 2018, however their letter was “ignored”.

This tournament marked the eighth World Cup appearance for the Nigerian women, with their best finish coming as a quarter finalist in 1999.

By Blake Schuster


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Former minister's son freed from kidnappers in Nigeria

Authorities in Nigeria on Thursday confirmed the release of Dayo Adewole, the son of a former minister of health Isaac Adewale, who was kidnapped on Tuesday by unknown gunmen in Nigeria's southwest Oyo State.

Oyo police chief Shina Olukolu, who disclosed this to Xinhua, declined to give a detailed account of the release but simply said the abducted former minister's son was freed "unhurt" by his abductors had been reunited with his family.

It is still unclear if any ransom was paid to secure the release of the kidnapped victim.

Dayo was kidnapped at about 6 p.m., local time at gunpoint on his farm in Iroko town of Akinyele area of the state.

The police chief added that the only suspects arrested so far in connection with the incident were three of the victim's farm workers.