Uganda Security minister Jim Muhwezi has been named in the leaked 'Pandora papers' as among the many global leaders who are hiding their wealth in offshore accounts and tax havens.
Muhwezi owned and held shares in two shell companies, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that reviewed 11.9 million records from 14 different offshore services firms to expose wealthy and powerful individuals from across the world who hide their wealth; much of it from corruption proceedings and others trying to dodge paying taxes in their countries in offshore accounts.
ICIJ writes that in February 2015, Muhwezi became one of three shareholders of the British Virgin Islands company Audley Holdings Ltd. The company’s directors authorized it to manage bank accounts in Europe.
In 2015, an Israeli businessman sued Muhwezi’s co-shareholders in a Ugandan court, disputing the transfer of shares in a similarly-named company, Audley Ltd, which owns two casinos in Uganda. The lawsuit did not name Muhwezi, and the court later ruled to stop the share transfer. Audley Holding Ltd. is the holding company of Audley Ltd. in Uganda, a company shareholder told ICIJ media partner, The Daily Monitor.
Regulators closed Audley Holdings Ltd. in 2016 for failing to pay registration fees. But in 2018, the Panamanian law firm Alcogal, which set up the company, reported Audley Holdings and its shareholders, including Muhwezi, to BVI regulators in a suspicious activity report after a database search revealed the eleven-year-old embezzlement allegations against him. Alcogal told regulators it resigned as the BVI’s company’s registered agent.
Under BVI law, firms like Alcogal must keep records about their clients for five years after the business relationship ends. It’s unclear what, if any, due diligence Alcogal conducted before accepting Muhwezi as a client in 2015.
Alcogal said that it complies with requirements where it operates and “performs enhanced due diligence on a client who is determined to be a high-risk customer, regardless of the nature of the relationship or service.”
Muhwezi also owned Sukari Loma Investment Holdings Ltd, created in Cyprus in 2013 through the offshore provider SFM. The company provided “financial services,” Muhwezi wrote on a signed beneficial owner statement, adding that its funds came from “salary savings” and his hotel and radio stations. It was closed in 2015.
When contacted by an ICIJ reporter, Muhwezi said, “I don’t know what you are talking about and I can’t make any reply.”
OTHER AFRICAN LEADERS
Ali Bong, Gabon President
Gabon President Ali Bongo, is the son of former president Omar Bongo who ruled Gabon for more than 40 years.
Bongo and two political associates controlled a shell company in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Pandora Papers documents, an arrangement that hasn’t been reported before.
Bongo was the major shareholder in Gazeebo Investments Ltd., according to a February 2008 email from a Miami attorney who instructed lawyers at Trident Trust to incorporate the company.
The email described Bongo, then Gabon’s minister of defense, as a “civil servant.” The Pandora Papers documents do not state the purpose of the company. The company’s other shareholders were Jean-Pierre Oyiba, head of Bongo’s presidential cabinet until he resigned in 2009 following a corruption scandal, and Claude Sezalory, a French-born Gabonese politician who was married to Sylvia Bongo Ondimba before she married Ali Bongo in 1989.
Oyiba was not charged and denied wrongdoing. Bongo was also the director of another BVI shell company, Cresthill Worldwide Ltd. Its purpose isn’t known, either. The two shell companies are no longer active.
President Bongo’s press office did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment. Oyiba and Sezalory, contacted through the Miami attorney who helped them set up shell companies, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya President
Kenyatta belongs to one of Africa’s wealthiest and most politically powerful families. His father was Kenya’s first president and built the family fortune through land deals he made while in office.
An estimate several years ago put the family fortune at more than half a billion dollars. After holding other high-level government positions, Kenyatta was elected president in 2013 and re-elected in 2017. During his presidential campaigns, he vowed to fight corruption.
Kenyatta is linked to a Panama foundation, while his mother and siblings set up at least six other offshore businesses and foundations to manage their assets.
Most of the family's companies were created before Kenyatta was elected president, and leaked documents show that some remained active after he took office. Those businesses, which are registered in Panama and the British Virgin Islands, hold bank accounts and real estate worth more than $30 million. Those assets are located in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.
Today, Kenyatta said the leaks will bring out business transparency in the region.
Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Congo President
A former military leader, Denis Sassou-Nguesso has spent more than half of his life as president of the Republic of Congo.
He served first from 1979 to 1992, when he was ousted after the country’s first multiparty elections. He seized power in 1997 after a bloody civil war and has remained the country’s leader. He presides over a repressive government, and the use of torture by police is well-documented.
Sassou-Nguesso and members of his family have been investigated in France and the U.S. amid accusations of human rights abuses and corruption, including the embezzlement of millions of dollars from the oil-rich country. The family denies the allegations.
Sassou-Nguesso owned a company that controlled diamond mines that are among the country’s most valuable assets. His ownership of that company, Inter African Investment Ltd., was not previously known.
Documents from ICIJ’s Pandora and Panama Papers investigation provide a look at a corporate structure designed to shield Sassou-Nguesso’s involvement.
Inter African Investment was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 1998, during Sassou-Nguesso’s second term as president.
It kept an account with the London branch of Banque Espirito Santo and owned another BVI company, Ecoplan Finance Ltd. One of Sassou-Nguesso’s daughters, Julienne, served on Ecoplan’s board of directors. Alcogal listed the company as inactive in a 2018 database.
Ecoplan owned the majority of shares in Escom Congo, a construction and real estate firm that holds the rights to diamond mines in the country. Sassou-Nguesso, through his spokesperson, did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment.
Patrick Achi, Côte d’Ivoire prime minister
Patrick Achi is a key adviser and potential successor to Côte d’Ivoire’s president, Alassane Ouattara, who named him prime minister in March 2021.
Achi has had a long career in politics, starting as an adviser in 1997. Three years later, he became minister of infrastructure, a post he held until 2010. He was elected to Parliament in 2011.
Achi has served as the president’s general secretary and campaign director, and he helped Outtara win a third term in 2020, although the country’s constitution limits a president to two terms. The election was marred by violence; at least 50 people died.
In 1998, while an adviser to Côte d’Ivoire’s minister of energy, Achi became the owner of a company based in the Bahamas, Allstar Consultancy Services Ltd., leaked documents show. Those records do not state the company’s purpose or report any assets.
Achi owned the company’s shares through a trust arrangement, which meant that his name was not recorded on official documents, obscuring his ownership.
Achi created the company through a London-based offshore specialist and, in 2006, transferred management of the company to the Bahamas office of the law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal). In 2006, Alcogal became the registered agent of Allstar Consultancy Services Ltd.
Achi did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment. ICIJ also did not receive a response to questions sent to Achi’s advisers.
Zakaria Idriss Deby Itno, Chad ambassador/brother to interim president
Zakaria Idriss Déby Itno is the younger stepbrother of Chad’s interim president and the son of its former president. His father, Idriss, ruled with an iron fist for more than 30 years, until he was killed during a battle with rebels in April 2021.
Under the autocrat’s rule, corruption and nepotism were rampant. In 2010, Idriss appointed Zakaria to run the national airline and, following the airline’s collapse two years later, named his son deputy director of the presidential cabinet.
After Idriss was killed, his older son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, took power and appointed Zakaria ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. The two are reportedly political rivals and clashed after their father’s death.
Leaked documents reveal that Zakaria held shares in a Seychelles company, Odian Consulting Ltd., along with a cousin and an alleged arms dealer. The corporate formation firm All About Offshore (Seychelles) Ltd., or AABOL, created Odian Consulting for the three men in 2008, when Zakaria was 22. The documents do not provide additional details about the owners, why the company was formed or what assets it held.
The other shareholders were his cousin Yosko Youssouf Boy, a former assistant director of protocol under former President Idriss Déby, and David Abtour, who was once married to the sister of one of the late president’s ex-wives. The status of the firm is unknown, according to the Seychelles company registry.
As part of its 2018 West Africa Leaks investigation, ICIJ reported that Abtour helped deliver ammunition and helicopters to Chad’s army before a bloody conflict with Sudanese-backed rebels.
Deby did not respond to repeated requests for comment sent to the Chadian embassy in the UAE. Abtour did not reply to a letter sent to his address in France, and a person who answered a phone call there hung up on an ICIJ reporter. Boy could not be reached for comment.
Aires Ali, former Mozambique prime minister
Aires Ali has spent his career in Mozambique politics. He is a former prime minister and has been touted as a possible presidential candidate. He is one of a handful of influential politicians who help run Frelimo, the political party that has been in power since Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.
In 2019, Ali was elected to Parliament. Before that, he was appointed to a variety of high-level government positions, under two presidents. Ali served as ambassador to China from 2016 to October 2017. He was prime minister for two years, from 2010 to 2012, until he was ousted in a cabinet reshuffle.
He served as the country’s education minister from 2005 to 2010. And he twice served as a provincial governor, running one province from 1994 to 1997 and another from 2000 to 2004.
Leaked documents reveal that Ali worked with two firms to help obscure his connection to Stonelake Enterprises Ltd. in the Seychelles.
In September 2012, less than a month before Ali was dismissed as prime minister, he formed the shell company through a tax consultancy based in Switzerland. The consultancy worked with a Panama-based law firm, Alcogal, which provided the shareholder and directors of Stonelake Enterprises Ltd. By using "nominees," Ali could shield his identity as the shell company’s owner.
Leaked records in the Pandora Papers do not state the company’s purpose. In 2013, he and his daughter, Judite Tânia Baptista Ali, authorized the company to open a bank account with a Lisbon-based wealth management firm.
Ali and his daughter did not respond to ICIJ’s requests for comment.
Martin Rushwaya, Zimbabwe presidential adviser
Martin Rushwaya is a top adviser to Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is also his cousin. Rushwaya has been involved in politics and government since 1996, when he became the administrator of one of Zimbabwe’s most mineral-rich provinces. He served as secretary of defense for 10 years, beginning in 2009.
In 2012, Rushwaya was also 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. In 2019, the year Mnangagwa appointed him a senior presidential adviser, Rushwaya submitted a doctoral thesis on “the emergence of African business ethics.”
While serving as Zimbabwe’s defense secretary, Rushwaya created Greatgem Corp. in the Seychelles in 2010, with the help of a Moscow law firm.
Rushwaya was one of two shareholders of the shell company. The other was a shell company owned by Moscow resident Olga Bakina. Greatgem’s sole director was Grey Mashava, then a Zimbabwean army colonel. The company had a bank account in Latvia.
In 2012, the offshore provider Alpha Consulting Ltd., which set up Greatgem, reported the company to the Seychelles’ Financial Intelligence Unit. Alpha Consulting noted that media reports identified Rushwaya as the director of a diamond-mining company that allegedly “camouflaged the involvement of security forces” and was involved in “off budget” financing. Alpha declared in its report, “We express a great deal of concern that the above described situation might be linked to the corruption of the state high officials.”
Rushwaya briefly spoke to an ICIJ reporter and asked for questions to be sent to him via WhatsApp. Rushwaya then did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Mashava could not be reached for comment. Bakina did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment.