$11 million UK mansion FG was seeking to confiscate over fraud is now owned by Tinubu’s son —Report

Seyi and his father, Tinubu

By William Clowes, Bloomberg 

A firm belonging to the son of Nigeria’s president-elect bought an $11 million London mansion that his predecessor’s government was seeking to confiscate as part of a probe into one of the biggest corruption scandals in the West African nation’s history, according to previously unreported UK company documents.

There’s no suggestion that President-elect Bola Tinubu was personally involved in the acquisition of the UK property in 2017. Current President Muhammadu Buhari visited him there in August 2021, nearly four years after the purchase took place. Tinubu, who will take over as head of state this month, has long been questioned about the source of his family’s wealth, including throughout the recent election campaign, when he and his representatives were pressed about it by local and international media. 

He and his campaign have said he made his fortune before going into politics by inheriting real estate, investing well and working as an accountant at Deloitte LLP and an executive at the Nigerian subsidiary of Mobil Oil in the 1980s and early 1990s. In an interview with the BBC in the run-up to the election, Tinubu cited Warren Buffett as an example he followed to become rich.

The corporate documents seen by Bloomberg show for the first time that Tinubu’s 37-year-old son Oluwaseyi is the main shareholder of Aranda Overseas Corp., an offshore company that paid £9 million ($10.8 million) to Deutsche Bank for the property in north London in late 2017. The private three-floor residence in St. John’s Wood — a district favored by American bankers — is equipped with an eight-car driveway, two gardens, electric gates and a gym.

Bola Tinubu’s spokesman and Oluwaseyi Tinubu did not respond to emails, phone calls and text messages seeking comment. A British lawyer listed as Aranda’s agent in the UK declined to comment citing confidentiality rules. 

At the time of the purchase, Nigeria’s government was seeking to arrest the house’s former owner, accusing him of going on the run while owing the country an oil-trading debt worth more than $1.5 billion. The state was also attempting to confiscate the upscale real estate and other assets it suspected had been acquired by the businessman — Kolawole Aluko — with the profits of crime. Aluko denies all allegations of wrongdoing and says a court judgment earlier this year acquitting a former business partner has cleared his name. That ruling is being challenged by Nigeria’s anti-graft agency.

Tinubu, 71, won an election in February as the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress and is scheduled to succeed his political ally Buhari on May 29. He was a key powerbroker in the merger of opposition parties that brought the current head of state to office in 2015.

While Buhari was elected on a pledge to tackle widespread graft, the country’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has deteriorated over the past eight years. 
Buhari Visit

A former governor of Lagos state, Tinubu has long been dogged by allegations of graft and rule-breaking, which he denies. In 1993, he forfeited $460,000 to resolve a lawsuit in Chicago after US federal authorities said that bank accounts in his name held the proceeds of heroin trafficking. Tinubu’s lawyers have said he was never charged over the matter.

While staying at the 7,000-square foot London home in August 2021, Tinubu received a visit from Buhari there, according to the Lagos-based Premium Times.

The online newspaper — using documents obtained from the Pandora Papers leak of offshore companies data — revealed that the shareholders and directors of Aranda from its formation 24 years ago until at least 2010 were Adegboyega Oyetola, the former governor of Osun state, and Elusanmi Eludoyin, head of a Nigerian property group. Oyetola’s spokesman and Eludoyin did not respond to requests for comment.

Documents filed this year in response to new anti-money laundering rules in the UK and seen by Bloomberg show that Tinubu’s son — an entrepreneur active in advertising who played a prominent role in his father’s presidential campaign — has been in control of British Virgin Islands-registered Aranda since June 2011. The company registered as an overseas entity in the UK on Jan. 20.

Aluko Allegations

Early in Buhari’s first term, his administration initiated legal cases against Diezani Alison-Madueke, who served as oil minister for five years until 2015, and two businessmen — Aluko and Olajide Omokore — who won lucrative contracts during her tenure. The US government said in a 2017 forfeiture lawsuit filed in Texas that the pair bribed the minister by funding her “lavish” lifestyle and failed to pay the state energy company for most of the crude they received.

Alison-Madueke, who is based in London, has denied the allegations. She is challenging multiple forfeiture orders issued by Nigerian courts and has accused the anti-corruption agency of blocking her efforts to defend herself in criminal proceedings. 

In June 2016, a federal judge in the capital, Abuja, granted a request by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to seize more than a dozen properties that Aluko had acquired in Nigeria and abroad, including the one in St. John’s Wood. That forfeiture order was still in force when Tinubu’s son bought the house out of receivership 16 months later. 

The ruling was made on an interim basis pending the conclusion of an investigation into Aluko that was still ongoing as of at least the end of 2018, according to court filings. Aluko can’t comment on the forfeiture case because it is still “sub-judice,” his lawyer Tokunbo Jaiye-Agoro said by email.

Deutsche Bank had foreclosed on the house and appointed receivers to sell it in late 2016, though there is no indication in court filings that the Nigerian government was aware the lender had taken over the house from Aluko as it proceeded with the seizure process. Aluko took out loans using other properties as collateral, according to the US Justice Department.

The EFCC said the buildings “were suspected to have been purchased with the proceeds of crime” and Aluko “fled the country” to avoid answering the fraud allegations against him, according to court filings.

Omokore was acquitted in February by a Nigerian court of charges related to the same allegations. The EFCC – which accuses him of defrauding the state energy firm of $1.6 billion – has said it will appeal. The judge removed Aluko and Alison-Madueke from the indictment because they were not in the country. Aluko’s location is unknown.

The acquittal of Omokore “puts to rest all the false allegations” about his and Aluko’s wealth, according to Jaiye-Agoro. Despite the appeal, “the current state of affairs” is that Aluko’s income was “legitimate and not from any corrupt practice,” Jaiye-Agoro said.

Omokore “objects to the continuous link of his name to any corrupt practices,” his lawyer, Rafiu Lawal-Rabana, said by text message. The court decision earlier this year discharged Omokore on all counts and any hitches in the implementation of the oil contracts were “purely technical not criminal,” he said.

Buhari’s spokesman and Alison-Madueke’s lawyer declined to comment. Spokespeople for Attorney General Abubakar Malami, the Nigerian National Petroleum Co. Ltd. and the EFCC did not respond to requests for comment. 

Yachts, Penthouses

In October 2017, as the government that Tinubu played an instrumental role in bringing to power was chasing Aluko and his assets, his son’s company bought one of the targeted properties. Aranda still owns the building and there is currently no mortgage registered to it, according to the UK land records.

The firm didn’t purchase the house directly from Aluko, but from a UK unit of Deutsche Bank AG that held a mortgage on the property and had appointed receivers to sell it a year earlier. Aluko acquired the mansion via a BVI company in 2013 and, according to Premium Times, paid £11.95 million. Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Aluko has no knowledge of Aranda or the individuals behind the company and “was not privy to the sale” as the bank had foreclosed on the house, Jaiye-Agoro said. The UK’s National Crime Agency did not respond to questions about whether it had ever received a request from the Nigerian authorities to freeze the property. The UK Home Office declined to comment. 

The US Justice Department announced on March 27 that it has recovered more than $53 million by confiscating assets bought by Aluko for more than $160 million with what it considers to be the proceeds of corruption — including a 65-meter superyacht and luxury homes in California and New York.
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