Some Nigerian lawyers worked extensively with the infamous Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, helping the company to incorporate shell entities and sell secrecy in Nigeria, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
The lawyers this newspaper has so far identified from the huge #PanamaPapers database were those from the law firms of Olaniwun Ajayi Law Practitioners (OALP) and Adepetun Caxton-Martins Agbor & Segun.
The companies are however making spirited efforts to deny links with the Panamanian law firm. But PREMIUM TIMES has established firmly that they indeed bought services from the law firm.
Olaniwun Ajayi Law Practitioners
PREMIUM TIMES had on April 5, 2016, published a comprehensive list of 110 Nigerians, including a Lagos-based law firm, Olaniwun Ajayi Law Practitioners, OALP, as well as a former employee of the company, Yemi Oke, who had at one time or the other engaged the services of Mossack Fonseca, a law firm that attained global infamy for helping clients create and operate offshore shell companies in tax havens like Seychelles, British Virgin Island and Panama amongst others.
Although the use of shell companies is not illegal and there are individuals and firms who incorporate them for purely legitimate purposes; yet, many who operate shell companies do so to evade tax, hide Ponzi schemes, run predatory lending scams and myriad illicit finance.
After the report, Mr. Oke, who is now Head of the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law at the University of Lagos, contacted this newspaper denying dealings with Mossack Fonseca and threatening “real legal and other battles”.
In an email to PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Oke denied transactions over any ocean vessel just as he denied contacts with any law firm in Panama.
Even when he was informed that some professional and family details found in the leaked #PanamaPapers database matched his, he insisted that he had never dealt with the Panamanian law firm.
“I wish to again confirm that I left Olaniwun Ajayi (OALP) in 2007, and while at Olaniwun Ajayi, I never heard of, or had any dealings with a Vessel called AMS TITAN on August 01, 2007 or with Mossack Fonseca,” Mr. Oke said in the mail.
“I’ve also copied this to my former employers (OALP) prior to the real legal and other battles. My former employers have denied any dealings with the firm (Mossack Fonseca),” the embittered lawyer added.
In an email reply to Mr. Oke, forwarded to PREMIUM TIMES, the Nigerian law firm, OALP, also denied any relationship with Mossack Fonseca.
“It’s truly a terrible thing to have OALP mentioned. Certainly also you. We have no client in Panama and do no business there. We have never dealt with the firm you mentioned. No one here did or could have while you were here or any time after you left used your email.
“That would have been unprofessional and criminal. As a matter of standard procedure email accounts of those who resign are deleted and deactivated. Please sue or deal with the publishers as you deem fit. I agree it’s no trifling matter,” Konyinsola Ajayi of OALP said.
But information contained in the leaked Mossack Fonseca file shows that Mr. Oke, as client on record, requested Mossack Fonseca to register a Vessel, AMS TITAN, on August 01, 2007.
He even indicated that his family was based in Canada and that he was a legal practitioner educated up to the PhD level.
Among other fact-checks, PREMIUM TIMES verified the Nigerian phone number supplied to Mossack Fonseca and found it was still assigned to Mr. Oke.
This newspaper has access to the full database, containing millions of documents now referred to as Panama Papers, and has pored through it for months, carrying out due diligence before the publication of every related story, including the one that mentioned Yemi Oke and OALP.
Between 2007 and 2008, OALP, and particularly Mr. Oke,, acted as intermediary – “professional client” – between Mossack Fonsecca and Christopher Akhigbe-Mide, President of Project Masters International Ltd., to procure “provisional patent” and registration from Panama Maritime Authority for a vessel AMS Titan.
On Wednesday, July 25, 2007, precisely at 1.58 PM, an email was sent to Mossack Fonseca from a company email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) assigned to Yemi Oke. The subject of the email, which at the time was officially copied to seven people, five of which appeared to be staff members of OALP with @olniwunajayi.net email address, was “Request for Quotes for Legal Services.”
The email sent from Mr. Oke’s account appeared to be the very first correspondence to Mossack Fonseca.
It reads: “We are a law firm based in Lagos, Nigeria. Our client desires to advance funding facilities for the purchase of certain vessel. The intended vessel will to be registered in, and to fly the flag of, the Republic of Panama.
“Your firm has been suggested as one of the leading firms in Panama with suitable competence and standing in transactions of this nature. We hereby, acting for and on behalf of our clients, request for billing quotes for the following legal services and/or documentation,” the introductory paragraphs of the email said.
The legal services sought from Mossack Fonseca by the Nigerians included the “Registration and/or collection of all necessary approvals for the registration of a Vessel in Panama; Documentation and/or creation of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to hold the vessel in trust for the Nigerian lender-bank; (and) Requirements and documentation for the appointment of a foreign trusteeship to hold in trust for 3 years the vessel on behalf on the Nigerian lender-bank.
Other special services sought by the email’s author were the “Preparation and Registration of mortgage charge over vessels flying the flag of the Republic of Panama (and) such other documentation as may be required to protect the interest of the Nigerian lender-bank in respect of a vessel charged for its interest.”
The email ended thus: “Please advise us on your financial quotes on the above items. Please revert as soon as possible with your quotes to enable us advise our clients accordingly.” The email had the signature “Yemi Oke (PhD.)” with land address “Olaniwun Ajayi, UBA House (Floor 4), 57 Marina, Lagos, Nigeria.”
On July 30, 2007 Mr. Oke received a mail from Egbert Wetherborne of Mossack Fonseca.
“Thank you very much for your interest in our services. My name is Egbert Wetherborne, and I am the lawyer in charge of your case.
“I have noticed that you are interested in two main things: Registering a vessel in Panama and Creating a Trust that protects the vessel and the interest of the Bank.”
Via his official email account, email@example.com, Mr. Oke replied on August 1, 2007:
“Further to my email in response to yours, please be informed that I will be the client on record for the purposes of dealing with you on this instruction. My nationality in Nigeria/Canada. I’m married and my
family is based in Toronto, Ontario Canada. I’m a legal practitioner and educated up to the PhD level.”
Mr. Wetherborne then requested Mr. Oke to send across some documents as part of Mossac Fonseca’s KYC (Know Your Clients) requirements.
Assuring OALP that Mossack Fonseca was the right firm for the job, the Panama lawyers wrote in one of the correspondences:
“In regard to the creation of a Trust to protect the bank’s interests, there are many options that we have. I am more inclined to the option were we incorporate a company from the British Virgin Island (BVI), that will own the vessel, and thereafter, we create a Vista Trust (A type of BVI Trust, specially for shares of BVI companies). Mossack Fonseca would provide the Trustee Services, plus the registered agent services for the BVI Company.”
In the course of correspondence between OALP and Mossack Fonseca, a telephone appointment was fixed. On Wednesday August 1, 2007, Oluwadamilola Osonubi, a staff member of OALP, emailed Egbert Wetherborne saying: “I am working with Yemi Oke on the captioned transaction.
“Further to his mail below, please be informed that we experienced some difficulty getting through to you by telephone. We are also unsure of the time zone in Panama. Kindly communicate your telephone numbers to
us, while also informing us about the current time in Panama and a good time to call you. Please note that it is presently 8p.m. here in Nigeria. Best regards.”
Mr. Wetherbone reverted, copying among others, Kemi Oladipo, another staff member of OALP on firstname.lastname@example.org. The mail reads:
“Dear Oluwadamilola: It is currently 2p.m. in Panama. So this means we are 6 hours behind. A good time to call me is10a.m. Panama time, (4p.m. Nigerian Time). My telephone numbers are: + (507) 2055888 or + (507) 2642322
The relationship between OALP and Mossack Fonseca culminated, in December 2008, in Mr. Akhigbe-Mide granting Mossack Fonseca “a full and sufficient power of attorney to apply to the proper National Bureau
and Authorities for the obtainment of the enrollment of any licenses that may be needed and any other administrative proceedings pertaining to the vessel AMS TITAN…”
Interestingly the power of attorney was notarized by Konyinsola Ajayi on December 11, 2008, and by Babington Hooke, a London-based notary public, on December 29, 2008. The same Koyinsola Ajayi denied ever dealing with Mossac Fonseca.
Alarmed by the listing of his name in our earlier report, Mr. Oke had sent a mail to his former boss, Konyinsola Ajayi, saying:
“I was informed that my OA (OALP) email was used long after my resignation, to send several emails in respect of the transactions. My my personal details such as residence of my family (then in Canada)
and the fact of my dual status, my (hot) telephone line among others are also reflected …
“…Before taking any step against the publishers and others I need to be sure there is no mixed-up somewhere as I’m listed against ‘Olaniun Ajayi’,” the email from Yemi Oke reads.
The former OALP employee continued: “I just wanted to be sure and clarify things from OA’s end before taking appropriate action. I immediately alerted Wolemi of this but he seemed unmindful of the gravity of the damage done to my person and the social and security risks to me and my family to be linked with certain powerful moneybags. I’m just reaching out to clarify a few things and to avoid creating any wrong notion as to my respect for AO as an institution.”
On Sunday, May 8, 2016, Mr. Ajayi sent a reply to Mr. Oke, once again standing by his earlier claim that his firm had had no dealings with Mossack Fonseca and that Mr. Oke’s email account was never used by anyone after his resignation.
“No need to worry. Do what you need to do to fully protect yourself. Best Regards, Konyin Ajayi,” the former boss wrote.
However, when PREMIUM TIMES contacted Konyinsola Ajayi, who himself notarized the power of attorney sent to Mossack Fonseca, his position on the matter became somewhat ambiguous.
Through SMS and electronic mail, PREMIUM TIMES told Mr. Ajayi it had records contradicting his claims of having never dealt with Mossack Fonseca. To that Konyinsola Ajayi said:
“As a Journalist, I’m sure you will do all required of you,” he replied. “If you have records there is nothing to be done to change facts.”
In the face of serial denials by Konyinsola Ajayi, another smoking gun was found in documents in the possession of PREMIUM TIMES.
On March 16, 2009, Damilola Akinwunmi, another OALP employee, via email account, DAkinwumi@olaniwunajayi.net, wrote to Isabel Vecchio, a Mossack Fonseca lawyer, “Further to your mail below, we have searched our records and can confirm that our Client (Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc) has already
made payment for the registration of the Mortgage Deed over Vessel AMS Titan as well as the opinion required to be issued by your firm …
“Kindly confirm the status of payment from your files and from Egbert Wetherborne, as he was handling this transaction on behalf of your firm at this time … we hope the required opinion can be issued as soon
as possible, to enable our Client close this transaction,” Akinwunmi, of OALP, wrote.
Indeed, another evidence shows that OALP actually used the services of Mossack Fonseca more than once. On 29 September 2009, Kemi Oladipo via email account KOladipo@olaniwunajayi.net addressed a mail to the two
Mossack Fonseca’s lawyers, Mr. Wetherbourne and Isabel Vecchio, saying:
“We thank you for your kind and professional legal assistance in the Project Masters transaction.
“Please be informed that we require your legal assistance once again in connection with another vessel carrying a Panamanian flag.
“One of our clients desires to enter into a lease with an option to purchase an accommodation barge with an American Company. To this end, it is imperative that our client obtains evidence of the nature of
title the American Company has over the barge. Also our client needs to ensure that good title can also be passed on to them (free from any future or present encumbrance) upon the purchase of the barge.
“Lastly, as our client also seeks to register the barge in Nigeria, we may need your assistance to deregister the barge at the Panamanian Registry. Please let us know also what this would entail,” the email from the Nigerian law firm reads.
Like Olaniwun Ajayi, like Adepetun Caxton-Martins Agbor & Segun (ACAS-Law)
Afolabi Caxton-Martins, Managing Partner of ACAS-Law, also contacted PREMIUM TIMES protesting his inclusion in the list of the Nigerian clients of Mossack Fonseca.
“We refute, categorically, that I or any of my partners or ACAS-Law owns a bank account or any type of asset, directly or indirectly in Panama,” Mr. Caxton-Martins wrote in an email to this newspaper. “Given the sensitive nature of our work, (our clients expect to be served by persons of the highest ethical standards and integrity), being falsely linked with the Panama scandal is bound to raise red flags and serious questions about our partners and firm. We have already received numerous calls from concerned friends and associates.
“I urge you to urgently look into this matter as soon as possible.”
PREMIUM TIMES Managing Editor, Musikilu Mojeed, responded, “Thank you very much for contacting us over the inclusion of your name among clients of Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
“According to information contained in the leaked file, your law firm, Adepetun Caxton-Martins Agbor & Segun, became a professional client/intermediary of Mossack Fonseca on June 5, 2008. Your client number is 25019.
“You (Mr. Caxton-Martins) are named as the main contact person for your firm.
Please note that the #PanamaPapers search platform you referred to is not comprehensive. PREMIUM TIMES has access to the full database, containing millions of documents, and has pored through it for months. I hope my explanation addresses your concerns.”
But Mr. Caxton-Martins wrote back saying, “Thank you for your email which helped to clarify a few issues. We now understand that according to Premium Times, ACAS-Law became a client and/or an intermediary of Mossak Fonseeca (“MF”) on June 5 2008 and that I am cited as the primary contact. This is a very different position from the one taken by your original publication which classified our firm as one of those persons that hold assets in Panama.
“Following your email in which you highlighted the date on which our firm allegedly became a client of MF, we conducted a search of our email database which shed some light on your allegations. We assume that your information was obtained from the database containing “..millions of documents..” referenced in your email. Please see below an email I received from the Intellectual Property (“IP”) department of MF following an IP conference that I attended in Germany.
“The date of the email is the same date you quoted as the date our firm became a “client” of MF. If that email was the source for your story, and there is a strong inference that is the case, do you still believe our inclusion in your list was justified? Please see the said email below.
“I repeat, categorically, neither ACAS-Law nor I have now, nor have we ever owned assets in Panama. Therefore, if the said email is the basis for our inclusion in the Premium Times list, we expect that you will be good enough to apologize for the error and make an immediate retraction. We look forward to hearing from you.”
Mr. Caxton-Martins indeed heard back from PREMIUM TIMES. Managing Editor Mojeed wrote back to him saying, “I apologise for the delay in responding to your email. I have been travelling extensively in the past days, with limited access to email.
“I like to assure you that we did not list your firm based on the email you forwarded.
“You are clearly identified in documents among customers created in 2005.
Besides, your firm, ACAS-Law, is the legal representative for offshore firm, Koggi Shipping. And you indeed dealt with Mossack Fonseca on behalf of the company in case number 1607374.
“I suggest you check through your records again.”
This newspaper is yet to hear back from Mr. Caxton-Martins and his law firm.
By Hassan Adebayo
DOWNLOAD Documents used for this story below