A prestigious Panamanian law firm was named in the so-called ‘Pandora Papers’ as implicated in the creation of offshore shell companies meant to hide money in tax havens for more than 160 politicians and public figures.
They included “some accused of looting their countries,” according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which obtained the leaked documents as part of the Pandora Papers, published Sunday, which sent shockwaves of embarrassment through powerful circles.
Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee, or Alcogal, was involved in creating shell companies to move money for Jordanian King Abdullah II, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic and three former presidents from Panama, among others, according to the bombshell release.
Others involved with Alcogal — co-founded in the 1980s by the son of a former Panamanian ambassador to the United States who then became ambassador himself — include a Honduran presidential candidate and a former president of Ecuador.
The firm also worked with figures in some of the most notorious financial scandals of the last decade, including the massive Latin American bribery plot involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and the soccer corruption case known as “Fifagate,” according to the ICIJ.
In a report, the ICIJ enumerated the 14,000 offshore entities in Belize, the British Virgin Islands and Panama created with the help of Alcogal in an effort to stash money away from public scrutiny for some 15,000 clients since 1996.
So prolific was the law firm’s offshore involvement that nearly two million of the 11.9 million leaked documents associated with the Pandora Papers — which were reported on by some 600 journalists — came from Alcogal.
Magnet for rich and powerful
According to the ICIJ, Alcogol played “a leading role in the tax avoidance and asset protection industry.”
“Over the past three decades, Alcogal has become a magnet for the rich and powerful from Latin America and beyond seeking to hide wealth offshore,” the reporting group said, citing leaked corporate records.
“Firms like Alcogal propel that (shadowy) economy, helping well-heeled clients find havens to conceal their money, sometimes from tax collectors and criminal investigators. Ordinary people often pay the price,” the ICIJ report on the firm said.
For example, the ICIJ says Alcogal set up more than 200 shell companies for the Banca Privada d’Andorra, some of which were then used to conceal public corruption in Venezuela. The United States later blacklisted the bank over money laundering concerns and Alcogal disentangled itself from the bank.
The firm rejected accusations of shady dealings in a statement, saying it was considering legal action to defend its reputation “in a vigorous manner where necessary.”
“Alcogal rejects the conjecture, inaccuracies and falsehoods in the papers,” the firm said, offering to work with authorities to investigate any irregularities.
And several politicians named in the papers also pushed back, including former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, who denied involvement in anything untoward.
The revelations from the Pandora Papers could further damage Panama’s reputation, after the Central American country’s image already took a hit in a previous round of financial scandal reporting known as the “Panama Papers” five years ago.
The government worried about fallout from the new release, according to a letter from officials released by local media.
“The damage could be insurmountable,” the Panamanian government said in the letter, sent through a law firm to the ICIJ.
The letter warned that “any publication” reinforcing “a false perception” of the country as a possible tax haven “will have devastating consequences for Panama and its people.”
The letter from the Panamanian government also references some of the reforms that the Central American country has made in recent years, although it remains on the EU list of tax havens.
The Panama of 2016 “is nothing like the Panama of today,” the government said in its letter.
Tambuwal Imposes Curfew As Protest, Violence Rock Sokoto
Violence erupted in some parts of Sokoto metropolis on Saturday when some Muslim youths trooped to the streets to demand the release of the two suspects arrested in connection with the killing and setting ablaze of a 200-level female student of the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Deborah Samuel, over alleged blasphemy.
Following the violence, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, imposed a 24-hour curfew on the metropolis to restore order in the city.
Deborah was on Thursday stoned to death and burnt by her colleagues for making a WhatsApp post on a group platform that allegedly blasphemed Prophet Muhammed (SAW). In the post, the deceased reportedly advised against posting religious materials on a WhatsApp group meant for assignments.
Saturday’s protest, however, led to the vandalism of properties and looting of shops in some parts of the metropolis, with many residents running helter-skelter for safety. The protesters also made an attempt to attack the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, who is the spiritual leader of Muslims in Nigeria and had condemned Deborah’s killing, which many described as barbaric.
The protesting youths, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great), while bearing placards with different inscriptions, started their demonstration peacefully at the Zabira Mall roundabout and marched through Gao-Nama on Maiduguri Road within the metropolis.
However, despite a combined team of security operatives, including soldiers from the 8 Division, police and personnel of the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, monitoring the protests to avert its takeover by hoodlums, there were reports of attacks on some public buildings, including an ECWA Church at Aliyu Jodi and a section of the Catholic Clinic, opposite Vision FM.
At the St Backita Catholic Secretariat in the Aliyu Jodi area of Sokoto, which houses the office of the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, the protesting youths burnt the security post and a vehicle on the premises. Kukah later announced in a statement that he was safe and unhurt and that his house was not burnt as rumoured.
He also announced the suspension of Masses across the diocese until the curfew imposed by the state government is lifted.
The statement signed by the Director, Directorate of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Rev Fr Christopher Omotosho, noted, “ During the protest, groups of youths led by some adults in the background attacked the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral at Bello Way, destroying church glass windows, those of the Bishop Lawton Secretariat and vandalized a community bus parked within the premises. St Kevin’s Catholic Church, Gidan Dere, Eastern Bypass was also attacked and partly burnt.”
Eyewitnesses told Sunday PUNCH that the irate youths stormed the church wielding machetes, stones and sticks. They started throwing stones into the church compound before overpowering the security men at the gate and gaining entrance into the premises. The extent of the damage was unclear as of press time.
One of the eyewitnesses said, “The protesters came en masse. I was across the building opposite the Zenith Bank in Minanata when they began to throw stones into the church. Some of them were attacking traders around the area and burning their wares. They were outraged.
“One of the youth said in Hausa and a very harsh tone that the church wrote an article on its website about Deborah’s murder and called the killers ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. I called the police as I tried to escape and they told me to leave the place immediately to avoid unforeseen circumstances, so I had to run away.”
The article referenced by one of the protesters was perhaps the statement issued by the Kukah to condemn the killing and ask Christians to pray for the repose of her soul.
Confirming the attack on the secretariat, a senior official of the church, Mr Matthew Otalike, said the protesters gained entry into the building and burnt down a vehicle. He added that they also invaded Kukah’s residence in the building but that the swift arrival of security agents prevented them from torching the residence.
A trader, who gave her name simply as Onyedikachi, said, “They attacked my sister’s shop where she sold foodstuff at the Sokoto Main Market. When I read that some people planned to protest on Saturday, I went there to warn her to close the shop. She was packing her goods when they came in from the back and we all ran away. We were told that they later set some shops ablaze and chased other traders away. In the process, some hoodlums looted shops unrestrained.”
Onyedikachi said she and her sister had fled the state before the curfew was imposed and were on their way to Jos, Plateau State, to join a bus to their state in the South-East.
Another eyewitness said, “Sokoto metropolis is boiling as I speak to you. The police are not doing enough. Even the curfew imposed by the governor didn’t change anything. I advise Christians in Sokoto to run away for their lives in case the violence escalates.”
Deborah: Prophet Muhammad Never killed Anyone Because of Insult – Gumi
Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has faulted those of the school of thought that killing is the punishment for blasphemy, saying Prophet Muhammad never killed for blasphemy during his time despite insults from his critics.
Gumi stated this during his religious teaching class in his Kaduna Juma’at mosque, according to PRNigeria.
He said if the Prophet refrained from killing or attacking his traducers and those who blasphemed him while alive, those killing for the same offence have no justification for their actions.
The Kaduna based scholar made the clarification in a video clip obtained and translated by PRNigeria while reacting to the killing of a female Christian student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto State over blasphemous statement.
The cleric added that rather than kill for blasphemy, Muslims in the country must strive to showcase the beauty of their religion by coexisting with non-Muslims and show how beautiful the Prophet lived by adhering to his teachings on how to live peacefully with others.
While condemning resort to extra-judicial killings, Gumi reiterated that Nigeria is a secular state and religious law cannot be used in countries like Nigeria.
“Hence, anyone who kills a non-Muslim who they have agreed to live peacefully with, will not smell the fragrance of Paradise for 40 years,” he was also quoted as saying by PRNigeria.
Furthermore, the cleric called on other Islamic religious leaders to ensure reorientation of their students and followers, saying they must refrain from instigating their followers to carry out heinous act.
Labour Minister Ngige Chickens Out of Presidential Contest
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige has withdrawn from the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
He announced his withdrawal from the contest in a statement on Friday in Abuja.
Ngige’s announcement followed a valedictory session held at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in the nation’s capital, in honour of ministers seeking elective offices in the 2023 general elections.
He had declared his intention to run for President in the forthcoming polls while addressing a crowd of supporters on April 19 at his hometown in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Three weeks later, President Muhammadu Buhari directed all appointed members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) running for elective offices to resign on or before May 16 – a directive which affected Ngige.
While the President went further to organise a valedictory session for the affected persons to appreciate them for their service, the labour minister decided to keep his ministerial job than continue with his presidential bid.
Stressing that he had yet to fill and submit the N100 million worth expression of interest and nomination forms of the All Progressives Congress (APC) bought for him, he explained that dropping his presidential ambition was in the interest of the nation.
Other reasons, according to Ngige, include family-related and to enable him to concentrate on his ministerial job and assist the present administration, especially in what he describes as the difficult last lap
He stated that he has since communicated his decision to President Buhari and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.
Read the full statement by the labour minister below:
WITHDRAWAL OF MY PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRATION
On Tuesday, 19th April 2022, I publicly declared my interest to contest for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, following the constitutional provision that precludes our amiable incumbent President, Muhammad Buhari from seeking re-election to the office, as he would have completed his two terms in office by 29th May 2023.
The declaration was made in my hometown, Alor, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
My declaration was sequel to pressure on me from my constituents, political associates, friends, and other well-meaning Nigerians, who felt I possess the necessary qualifications and experience for the job.
Some of these supporters even taxed themselves to procure the Expression of Interest/ Nomination Forms of our Party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for me. The forms, however, are yet to be filled and submitted.
Today, 13th May 2022, I had an audience with President Muhammadu Buhari as a follow up to the one I earlier had with him on May 11th, 2022.
Having also consulted widely with my family, constituents, supporters, and well-wishers, it is my pleasure to announce the withdrawal of my interest and earlier decision to contest the office of the President in the 2023 general elections.
As a result of this, I will NOT be participating in any of the internal party processes of the said election, starting with the primary.
I took this momentous decision firstly in the overall interest of the nation, in order to enable me to concentrate on my job, and assist the President and the Government, to weather the difficult last lap, in the life of the administration and secondly for other family reasons.
I have since communicated this decision to the President and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
My constituents, political associates and well-wishers across the country are by this statement informed of this latest decision, which also has the blessing and support of the overwhelming majority, hence supersedes any other interest, personal or otherwise.
Thanks and God’s blessings.
Senator (Dr.) Chris/ Nwabueze Ngige, MD, OON
Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment