How Mr Bello-Koko anonymously acquired Five London Properties Using The Two Offshore Companies
According to the ongoing Pandora Papers investigation, the acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mohammed Bello-Koko, is involved in offshore business, hiding behind two shell companies incorporated in a tax and secrecy haven to anonymously invest in the United Kingdom property market, potentially violating Nigeria’s public service code of conduct laws.
Iexclusivenews Nigeria reports that President Muhammadu Buhari is likely to confirm Mr Bello-Koko as the substantive NPA chief. Hadiza Bala-Usman, the agency’s current substantive head, is still on leave following a disagreement with Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi. With an ongoing investigation into her employment, it’s uncertain whether she’ll be recalled.
In 2008, Mr Bello-Koko and his wife, Agatha Anne Koko, enlisted the help of Cook Worldwide, a financial secrecy firm, and Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), an offshore law firm, to secretly register Coulwood Limited (reg. number: 1487897) and Marney Limited (reg. number: 1487944) in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), one of the world’s most Both corporations were formed on June 19, 2008, the same day.
Even as a public servant, Mr Bello-Koko remains a director of the two companies, in breach of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (Sections 5 and 6).
His firms were also being investigated by BVI regulators for possible money laundering, a situation Alcogal appeared to have helped him escape by providing false information to the regulators.
The information originated from the Pandora Papers, a collection of 11.9 million leaked sensitive records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then assembled a team of 617 journalists from 150 news organizations, including PREMIUM TIMES journalists, to investigate the data.
The reporters sifted through the leaked documents for two years, seeking down sources and digging through court papers and other public information from dozens of nations. It is the world’s largest partnership of investigative journalists, with representatives from 117 countries and territories.
The documents were stolen from 14 offshore services firms throughout the world that build up shell companies and other offshore enclaves for clients like Mr Bello-Koko who want to hide their frequently dubious financial activity.
Based on collaborative research by PREMIUM TIMES and Finance Uncovered of London within the larger Pandora Papers project, Mr Bello-Koko then anonymously acquired five London properties using the two offshore companies, Coulwood Limited and Marney Limited, according to public records from the UK Land Registry.
After Mr Bello-Koko took office at the NPA in May 2017, one of the properties was purchased. In 2016, he was named executive director of finance and administration, and in 2021, he was named acting MD.
Nigerian Ports Authority’s headquarters The remaining four properties were purchased between 2009 and 2012, potentially allowing Mr Bello-Koko to take advantage of UK tax loopholes that permitted the anonymous ownership of UK properties through offshore corporations, known as the envelope structure.
For example, prior to 2012, when former Finance Minister George Osborne announced new laws, holding property through an offshore company meant that ownership could be transferred by selling the company’s shares rather than the property itself, with no U.K. property sale tax or capital gains tax due.
Mr Bello-Koko is a former banker who worked for the defunct FSB International Bank and then Zenith Bank, where he was in charge of Rivers State government accounts in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Although shell corporations have been a crucial aspect in illicit financial flow and have been used to enable drug trades and terrorism financing, owning one is not always illegal and can be utilized for good reasons.
Having the shell firms at the time Mr Bello-Koko worked in the private sector was not, on the surface, illegal under Nigerian law.
Shell companies, on the other hand, are regularly used to hide assets and avoid or evade taxes, according to experts. Players in high-risk industries of corruption, such as banking, government contracting, petroleum, and real estate, use them to smooth the flow of filthy money, sometimes for shady political patrons.
A formal request for comment was issued to Mr Bello-Koko by PREMIUM TIMES and Finance Uncovered. For weeks, he refused to explain how he came to own the properties or offer proof that he disclosed them in his Code of Conduct filings, as required by law. He also refused to explain why he continued to be a director of the offshore business while holding a public office in Nigeria, in contravention of the law.
However, if he did not declare the BVI shell companies or any of the properties they own, he would be in violation of Nigeria’s code of conduct law, which requires public officials to declare “all” assets and liabilities owned by themselves, their spouses, and unmarried children under the age of 18 “immediately” after taking office.