Nigerian judge secretly owns property in London with undeclared offshore company
n November 2020, when Stella Ogene retired from the judicial service of Delta State, in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, she headed the customary state Court of Appeal for 21 years, a record.
In addition to describing her as “one of the best brains”, Delta State has contributed to the legal profession in Nigeria, State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa also suggested that Ms Ogene had established a track record of ethical conduct, challenging his successor, Patience Elumeze. , to continue on this path.
But hardly do the guests who gathered in Asaba, the state capital, this November afternoon at the event inaugurating her successor, know that Ms. Ogene operated a secret offshore company for several years in flagrant violation of the Nigerian code of conduct.
And even in what pushes the limits of impunity, the files of the Commission des affaires des entreprises (CAC) accessible to the public mention her as the director of a private company for 10 consecutive years.
In 2009, Ms. Ogene decided to venture into the London property market. However, for a public officer she had one challenge: to escalate due diligence checks in the UK regarding her source of funds. It was also to prevent the Nigerian Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) from determining an undeclared asset or an asset not attributable to fair income under Nigerian law.
To overcome these obstacles, she procured what experts call an envelope structure. To acquire the property undetected, Ms. Ogene hid behind a company tucked away offshore.
Documents reviewed by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Judge Ogene was referred to Cook Worldwide, a financial secrets seller with an office in Panama, a notorious tax haven, by Chike Obianaba, an Anglo-Nigerian real estate consultant in London.
Cook Worldwide acted swiftly and Assete Media Limited was born on September 7, 2009, with Ms. Ogene as beneficial owner, director and secretary, as shown by the company’s certificate of incorporation and a wealth of other documents obtained by PREMIUM TIMES .
In helping Ms Ogene to incorporate Assete Media Limited in Seychelles, Cook Worldwide hired Mayfair Trust Group Limited, an offshore service provider based in Mahé-Seychelles, the documents revealed.
The information on Ms. Ogene’s offshore secrets came from Pandora Papers, the landmark investigation into the vast amount of previously hidden offshore records of the super-rich and powerful, coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ.
The leaked documents came from 14 offshore service companies around the world who have set up shell companies and other offshore nooks and crannies for clients like Ms Ogene, who seek to conceal their financial activities.
The investigation, which is the largest investigative journalist collaboration in history, involved 151 media outlets and more than 600 journalists from 117 countries who sifted through nearly 12 million leaked documents, searched for sources and examined other public documents.
Public records reviewed include UK Land Registry files to see how Nigerian public officials in service and past like Ms Ogene, NPA Acting Chief Mohammed Bello-Koko, and former Minister and sitting Senator Stella Oduah , among others, have secretly invested in the London real estate market through shell companies. They continued to serve as directors of front companies even as public servants, thus violating Nigeria’s code of conduct.
Contacted for the first time by phone, Ms Ogene categorically denied any connection to shell company Assete Media Limited. PREMIUM TIMES then sent her another written note, outlining the information we obtained, including a customer record from Cook Worldwide listing her as the sole administrator and secretary, letters which she signed indicating that she is the beneficial owner and an exact address of the London property that she secretly purchased.
Realizing the futility of further denial, Ms. Ogene then said, “I am not a sole director or any director for that matter and I am only a nominal shareholder of Asset Media. As for the records of the letter you referred to written by me, it is out of date and obsolete and there are documents to that effect.
In another exchange with her, PREMIUM TIMES informed Ms. Ogene that her claim not to be a director of Asset Media was contradicted by the documents we obtained and then asked her to share all the documents she has to counter the information we have collected. She has not yet responded to this request.
Even though Ms. Ogene was an ordinary shareholder as she claimed, she was constitutionally required to report the company and the assets that she owns through the company to the CWB. This point was made clear to him.
We also asked her why she did not respect the provisions of the Constitution while she was a judge (article 11, part of the fifth annex). She refused to answer questions.
After developing the incorporation of a shell company in Seychelles, Ms. Ogene then entered the London real estate market.
In January 2010, four months after starting its offshore business, his shell company, Assete Media Limited, acquired a property in London with title MX58142 and address: 2 Old Rectory Gardens, Edgware HA8 7LS, UK Land Registry records show . The price paid was 224,000 pounds (about 43 million naira at the prevailing exchange rate).
Using a home price inflation calculator, this would give the property an estimated value of 400,000 pounds at current prices.
As we understand, the anonymous acquisition of the London property would allow him to bypass UK due diligence checks on the sources of his funds as a public officer in Nigeria. In addition, anonymity, i.e. hiding behind his secret society incorporated in Seychelles, has enabled him to avoid possible investigations and prosecutions in Nigeria for possession of undeclared assets or acquisition. as a judge of assets not attributable to legitimate income.
Ms Ogene said Asset Media took out a loan to acquire the London property. She declined to explain which bank advanced the loan.
She remains to this day the ultimate beneficial owner of the London property.
READ ALSO: PANDORA PAPERS: Inside the secret affairs of Governor Dapo Abiodun, foreign account
A judge like an offender
By incorporating Assete Media, apparently to secretly own property in London, Ms Ogene attempted to hide from law enforcement.
But in what has further pushed the boundaries of impunity for a judicial officer, Ms Ogene for 10 years, while president of the Customary Court of Appeal, served as director of a private company in Nigeria in violation of the law.
On April 19, 2010, Mrs. Ogene and her family members – John Ogene, husband; Esse Ogene, daughter; and John Ogene Jr, son – registered Yellow Music Limited with registration number 882084 in Nigeria, company records obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission, show. Mr. Ogene is a professor of art history and graphic design and vice-rector from the University of Benin. By this action, the teacher is also breaking the law.
Between 2010 and 2020, when Ms. Ogene retired from the bench, she remained Director of Yellow Music, appearing openly in the publicly accessible CAC archives. She violated section six (6) of the Bureau and Court Act of the Code of Ethics.
“The company (Yellow Music Limited), the company was established for future use at that time, which was never used and had no financial relationship,” Ms. Ogene explained in her written statement to PREMIUM TIMES .
“It was originally conceived as a possible future business in music recordings for our son John Ogene Jr who is very interested in music.”
She did not respond to further questions as to whether she had declared her interest in Yellow Music and the offshore company Assete Media to the CWB, as required by Article 11, part of the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution. from 1999.
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