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Jet reportedly linked to OPL245 oil deal seized by Nigeria’s asset recovery lawyers

Nigeria has moved to ground a luxury private jet that a former oil minister purchased by allegedly using his illicit cut of a $1.3 billion oil deal. The Nigerian government’s asset recovery lawyers seized the aircraft after it landed at Montreal-Trudeau airport towards the end of last month.

The company which owns the jet appears to be a British Virgin Islands (BVI) entity. According to reports by Lionel Faull and Margot Gibbs in Finance Uncovered and The Premium Times in Nigeria, the company is “anonymously owned.” My immediate thoughts, as an asset recovery professional who practices in the BVI, is that this is unlikely to be the case.

Ultimate beneficial ownership details are now identified and recorded for every BVI company. Although this information is held confidentially it is far from secret. Competent authorities can access this information or, in the alternative, lawyers such as myself can do so, provided we have sufficient grounds in the eyes of the court.

The Nigerian official whose jet was seized is rumored to have received $336 million in exchange for agreeing to the OPL245 oil deal on the government’s behalf, which has now led to the initiation of a corruption trial in Italy. The former oil minister and his alleged co-conspirators all deny the charges against them.

Asset recoveries such as this form a key part of the Nigerian government’s attempts to reimburse the public purse and improve its global image. Though they are complex and likely to be drawn-out, for a state synonymous with corruption and fraud it is a huge step in the right direction. Just because the task ahead is daunting does not mean that it should not be attempted.

Nigeria has been rightly criticized over its notorious “491” advance-fee frauds (so-called because of the section of Nigeria’s Criminal Code which outlaws the practice), among other frauds. Rarely has any state had so many “princes” with so much money to launder.

As laughable as these fraudulent advance-fee emails and letters may seem to those of us working in investigating fraud and implementing counter measures, a shockingly high number of innocent people have still fallen victim to these crimes. The Nigerians need to be seen as taking fraud and corruption seriously in order to put this ugly chapter behind them. Those countries with vast economic potential like Nigeria have bright futures – but only if the rest of the world can feel confident doing business with them.

If Nigeria can shake off its suspect fraud reputation — through more actions such as the recent jet seizure —  it will be welcomed into the global fold to enjoy the many benefits that shift will bring.

With thanks to Tony McClements, Senior Investigator at Martin Kenney & Co, for his assistance with this post. He served for 33 years with UK police forces and has specialized in Fraud & Financial Investigation since 1998. He is also a lecturer in these subjects at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN).

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  1. Perhaps the interesting point here is precisely why the BVI authorities, if they had unfettered access to this information, failed to act, despite the multiple red flags and long-running allegations surrounding this case. One might speculate further that had this register of beneficial ownership been available to the public, the wrongdoing would have come to light earlier under the scrutiny of the many concerned entities in Nigeria and beyond, encompassing civil society, the media and ordinary citizens, who have been following this case. I hesitate to quibble over the word anonymous, but if not anyonymous, then ‘secretive’ might be a useful term: deliberately registering in a jurisdiction with a poor track record for detecting wrongdoing, which has long defended secrecy, and which is associated with many of the world’s most notorious cases of money laundering and corruption. One wonders what weight of evidence and global opinion is needed for the professional services companies registered in that jurisdiction to start demanding a clean up.

    • Excellent comment Professor Barrington – I completely agree. Transparency of company ownership is key to preventing money laundering and financial crime and registers should be open to the public and especially firms which provide services to AML regulated entities. Why BVI should be different in this respect is beyond me unless it aspires to be a haven for dirty money.

  2. I agree with Professor Robert Barrington noted points.

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