While no African official has yet resigned as a result of the Panama Papers, African journalists involved in the investigation say they have given Africans a wake up call and could even lead to government action.
The twin sister of DRC’s leader Joseph Kabila twin sister, the nephew of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma and business people allegedly linked to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe are all named in the Panama Papers. The Mossack Fonseca leak – the biggest data leak ever – have revealed the names and alleged financial affairs of top officials from at least 15 different sub-Saharan African countries or people linked to them have been named.
While the practice of keeping money abroad is not illegal, the revelations by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) team of about 400 journalists have made global headlines. African Union chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said the African money kept in foreign banks should be repatriated to the continent. At a conference last year, former South African president Thabo Mbeki noted that a report commissioned by the AU had found that Africa was losing$50 billion (43 billion euros) a year through illicit cash flows – money that could go into education, health care or investments on the continent. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) even puts the amount at $150 billion.
Several African governments have either remained silent or maintained that the officials were acting within their legal rights when confronted with the disclosure. African journalists who worked on the investigation believe that the Panama Papers will have a strong impact:
With the Nkandla scandal, the alleged influence peddling by the Gupta family, and students protesting about the state of the universities and the country, South Africa’s journalists are not short of stories. “Our news agenda is already full and so its not surprising that these leaks may not make the same impact here as they’re making elsewhere,” Sam Sole, who co-heads the investigative team at South Africa’s Mail and Guardian paper and participated in the Panama Papers investigation, told DW.
Nevertheless he noted: “I think its fantastic that the Panama Papers have put that issue on a global map, because on this issue there are only global cross border solutions.” The documents are also quite important in terms of actual consequences, Sole added. “Even though there is not a lot of data on South Africa and South African companies, South African Revenue Services and treasury will be looking more carefully at offshore jurisdiction and the way in which it is used to hide money.”
Earlier this week, South Africa’s Finance Minister proclaimed that the country’s revenue authorities would be investigating any South Africans mentioned in the leaks. In many cases the leaks could just be the beginning of an inquiry. They had revealed that President Zuma’s nephew Clive Khulubuse Zuma was authorized to represent and negotiate the offshore company Caprikat Limited, which bought oil blocks in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Khulubuse Zuma’s involvement in the firm was already known in South Africa, but the leaks found that he did not directly benefit in the deal. “So this leak deepens the mystery as to what he was doing there. The question arises why would they use him and what benefits would he have gained from that?” Sole said.
Ordinary South Africans are affected by their leaders’ offshore activities. “The burden of maintaining the infrastructure for viable states is falling on the shoulders of those who are less able to bear that burden and those able to bear that burden are paying much less than they should.”
More stories are coming, said Botswana’s member of the investigative team, Alvin Ntibinyane, who co-manages the INK Center for Investigative Journalism in Botswana. So far, only the President of the Court of Appeals, Justice Ian Kirby, has been named in the leaked files. He is said to hold shares in up to five offshore companies mainly in the UK, but he insists this is perfectly legal.
According to Ntibinyane, ordinary Botswanans were, however, appalled by the judge’s involvement with the law firm. “It is the talk of the town for now. We have responses from civil societs and political parties. Some are even calling for him to resign. But we haven’t yet received any response from key institutions like the government, the judiciary or the law society,” he explained.
Nearly a quarter of Botswana’s revenue comes from diamond mining and the country’s economic growth is around five percent. Unlike other African countries, Botswana is noted for having checks and balances in place, so that its citizens benefit from ithe nation’s wealth. “Our diamonds have been able to develop the country to a certain level. We have relatively free education and health care is good. But these are still worrying signs that so many people from Botswana are investing offshore,” Ntibinyane said. The upcoming stories, he said, would concern private firms rather than public officials.
One Nigerian mentionen in the Panama Papers is former Delta State governor, James Ibori who has already felt the full force of the law. In 2012, he admitted to embezzling up to $75 million from Nigeria – although authorities believe teh true amount could be much higher – and investing it in property in London. He is now serving a jail term in the UK.
On Monday (04.04.2016), Nigeria’s Premium Times , which was involved in the investigation, revealed that Senate president Bukola Saraki , who is said to be Nigeria’s third most powerful person, has been named as having failed to declare assets in offshore account in his wife’s name. A mere front, claims the investigative team. Saraki is already on trial for allegations of fraud. Nigeria’s Transition Monitoring Group, an organization of around 400 civil society groups says Saraki should resign from his post.
The Nigerian investigative team, says taht Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and his half-brother Sayyu Dantata, have also been linked to Mossack Fonseca’s shell companies. The two are said to have repeatedly bought and sold shares in 13 companies, mainly in the Seychelles.
Followers of DW Hausa’s Facebook page have expressed concern: “Saraki should not have done that. I believe some made him do this but at the end of the day he will pay. This will eventually land him in jail,” wrote Auwal Jaddah. Another user said that anyone involved in the scandal should be punished accordingly, while Bashir Sahal Yakubu wrote: “The international community should come up with a law regarding tax evasion.”