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General News of Sunday, 28 November 2021

Source: www.premiumtimesng.com

Pandora Papers: Inside the crime-infested life of Diezani’s ally Walter Wagbatsoma

Photo used to illustrate the story via Premium Times Photo used to illustrate the story via Premium Times

In the early hours of Wednesday, January 17, 2018, Nigerian businessman, Walter Wagbatsoma, was jailed and disqualified from being a company director for six years in the United Kingdom.

Before his conviction, Mr Wagbatsoma had been locked up for three years and six months for his part in an international conspiracy that swindled more than 13 million pounds from public services including Lincolnshire’s mental health NHS trust.

Earlier in June 2016, while travelling through Germany, he had been detained on a European Arrest Warrant and subsequently extradited and charged with conspiring with others to launder the proceeds of fraud through his business interests in the U.K.

Leicester crown court said Mr Wagbatsoma personally benefited to the tune of 480,000 pounds from four fraud schemes, which saw him and his co-conspirators ring up hospitals, councils, schools, and housing associations posing as owners of a legitimate building firm that was owed money by the organisations.

The conspirators then claimed their bank details had changed and instructed the organisations to put the money into a different account instead. The money was subsequently moved around several accounts in a bid to make it untraceable.

Tagged Operation Tarlac, Lincolnshire Police’s four-year investigation into the fraud ring began in 2011 after Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Trust was cheated out of £1.28m.

At the time Mr Wagbatsoma was convicted in the United Kingdom, he was on a separate trial in Nigeria over fuel subsidy fraud.

The pieces of information about the businessman’s several brushes with the law 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 records came from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients like Mr Wagbatsoma, who seek to conceal their financial activities.

The investigation, which is the biggest collaboration of investigative journalists in history, involved 151 media outlets and more than 600 journalists from 117 countries who sifted through nearly 12 million leaked records, tracked down sources, and reviewed other public records.

The Man, Walter WagbatsomaNamed Walter Omagbitse Wagbatsoma, the businessman and oil dealer was at a time an ally of arguably Nigeria’s most influential minister of petroleum in recent history, Diezani Alison Madueke.

Mrs Alison-Madueke, believed to have moved to the United Kingdom after her exit from public office in Nigeria, ran the petroleum ministry that superintended over the opaque Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) between 2010 and 2015.

She served under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and has been named in a number of corruption trials since she left office.

Her name has featured either as the main defendant or an accomplice in some cases filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

According to his Linkedin account, Mr Wagbatsoma bagged a bachelor’s degree in accounting and obtained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Lagos.

He worked as a member of the Integrated Audit Department at Shell between 1991 and 1993 before joining Zenith Bank where he worked between 1993 and 2001.

He also worked at FSB International Bank Plc between 2001 and 2003 before becoming executive vice-chairman of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited.

Mr Wagbatsoma and his companiesDocuments seen by PREMIUM TIMES dated November 4, 2010, showed that Mr Wagbatsoma founded and became sole director of Ontario Resources and Trading Limited. The location of the company’s registered office was set out in the Company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association as Suite 15, 1st Floor Oliaji Trade Centre, Francis Rachel Street, P.O. Box 1004, Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles.

Later in 2011, Mr Wagbatsoma became sole director and secretary of Mamlakah Energy Company Ltd, a company existing and operating under the laws of the British Virgin Islands.

Mr Wagbatsoma and Subsidy FraudOn Wednesday, August 1, 2012, the EFCC arraigned Mr Wagbatsoma and other suspects implicated in the fuel subsidy scam before the Lagos High Court.

Others arraigned alongside the businessman were Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer, Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele, and Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited.

They were charged with obtaining property by false pretences, altering, forgery and conspiracy.

The case had been scheduled for a hearing a month earlier but was postponed due to Mr Wagbatsoma’s failure to appear in court.

At the hearing, the EFCC informed the court that Mr Wagbatsoma had earlier fled the country to evade arrest upon learning of the charges filed against him. All efforts to arrest him were unsuccessful after he refused to honour invitations by the EFCC.

The EFCC said charges were first filed against Mr Wagbatsoma on July 20, 2012, but he claimed to have travelled out of the country on June 17, 2012, returning to the country on July 3, 2012, only to take off again on July 20 when he got wind of a charge filed against him before the court.

“A letter was received by the EFCC from the defendant’s company, Ontario Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited that he was out of the country for medical check-up and will be available the moment he returns to the country. But that letter was dated 18th July 2012. So he was still very much in the country. These are some accounts of the deceit he employed to confirm that he was evading arrest. Up till now, we have not been able to obtain his statement. He left Abuja for France by 9 pm on the 20th July 2012 having got wind of this,” the EFCC said at the time.

In May 2017, after a five-year trial, Justice Lateefa Okunnu of a Lagos High Court sentenced Mr Wagbatsoma to a minimum of 10 years in prison for the six-count charge brought against him by the EFCC.

In her judgment, Justice Okunnu sentenced the Managing Director of Ontario Oil and Gas Limited, Adaoha Ugo-Nnadi, to 10 years in prison for defrauding the Federal Government of N754 million in oil subsidy transactions.

At the time of that verdict, Mr Wagbatsoma was facing trial over a £12 million National Health Service (NHS) Trust fraud in the United Kingdom.

Reported and DumpedAfter considering the crime-related controversies involving Mr Wagbatsoma and his companies, Alcogal, on June 5, 2013, wrote to the controversial businessman informing him that it was resigning as the registered agent for his companies. He was given 90 days to find a replacement.

Alcogal also wrote BVI financial investigations agency of its decision to withdraw from managing Mr Wagbatsoma’s companies -Pacesetter Trading Limited, Mamlakah Energy Company Limited and Alcamo International Limited.

The secrecy provider said associating with the tainted companies presented “higher risk to our office than the risk tolerance levels currently set by our risk-based approach methodologies”.

It is unclear if the businessman was eventually able to find another registered agent for his embattled firms.

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