Nigeria’s Premium Times, which participated in the leak of a trove of 13.4million records kept by two offshore services firms reported that the two Nigerian bankers were believed to have used artificial leasing schemes to avoid VAT on jets imported into the EU.
More than 380 journalists from 96 media organizations in 67 countries scrutinized leaked data obtained by the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and the International Consortium of International Journalists (ICIJ) from two offshore secrecy providers (Appleby and Asiaciti Trust) and 19 secrecy jurisdictions around the world.
Messrs Emefiele and Ovia, both with ties to Zenith Bank, between 2007 and 2012, incorporated three offshore entities in tax havens, which were then used to acquire luxury jets and move funds around in cyclical manners that suggested tax avoidance schemes.
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The shell companies are Vitesse Asset Management SA (incorporated in Switzerland in 2007); Oviation Asset Management Limited (a Bermuda company established in 2009); and Oviation Limited (an Isle of Man company incorporated in 2012).
Premium Times reported that in January 2013, the two bankers acquired a Gulfstream 450 for $33million and imported it into the Isle of Man, a European territory, where one of their shell companies – Oviation Limited – is domiciled. Oviation Limited then leased it to another of their companies, which in turn leased it to Zenith Bank.
Helped by Ernst and Young, a multinational professional services firm headquartered in London, Oviation Limited then registered for VAT in the Isle of Man and used a deferment account to pay and demand a refund of £4,239,178.13 VAT.
Messrs Emefiele and Ovia used a similar scheme when they acquired a $51million G550 jet in November 2015 and similarly ended up pocketing £6,652,988.36 in VAT refund.
Tax experts and journalists believe that the leasing schemes adopted for these transactions were structured to avoid tax – £10,892,166 in total – and that tax authorities should demand repayment of the amount.