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The British Virgin

By Bob Anikwe
RICH and powerful Abuja businessmen are in love with the British Virgin. There are 60 such “virgins” but the affluent in Abuja are attracted to only four of them.

These four do not bear British-sounding names: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke. Of the original 60 virgins, 44 can still claim to be “virgins” in the real sense of the word – no man has touched them or lived in them up till this day.

The remaining 16 are not virgins in any sense – they make their services freely available to local and international businessmen, including the well-heeled from Abuja, FCT. We are introduced to the British Virgin each time a big international financial transaction takes place here in Abuja. At such events, including the BPE privatisation and oil blocs licensing rounds, we invariably find one or two rich and powerful Nigerians submitting a résumé that shows, among other things, that they visited and made use of the services of Tortola, Virgin Goda, Anegada or Jost Van Dyke.

Oftentimes, this may turn out to be an omen. One of the consortia that bid for the recent final(?) sale of ailing NITEL is Omen. Ordinarily, an omen can be a sign, a portent, a prophecy, a warning, a forecast, or a premonition.

Omen International Limited (BVI), however, powered through when it was announced as reserve winner with a bid of $956.98 million, beaten to second place by New Generation with its generous $2.5 billion bid. Tongues have been set wagging ever since, particularly on the antecedents of the winner, New Generation, and its subsequent denials and truth somersaults. But I was not concerned about New Generation.

The company that interested me was Omen, not because of the name, but because of its appellation, BVI – which announced to the world that some rich and powerful Nigerians went to make use of the services offered by the “virgin”, before they came for the bid. In case you are wandering, British Virgin is not a woman. If she is, she would have been the worst kind of whore alive.

The British Virgin is rather a collection of 60 islands, annexed and colonised by Britain, which has thrown her arms open to responsible and shady world businessmen (and women) who want a haven to protect their wealth. The British Virgin Island is located in the Caribbean Sea, 90 miles east of Puerto Rico.

There are two things that make her very attractive to rich business people from around the world – she can help you salt away wealth for your children, and she can help you register and run a company that no one would ever find out who the real owners are, and you can run without paying any form of tax. International business companies (IBCs) and trusts set up in the British Virgin Islands are both exempt from local taxes and stamp duties, after paying registration and annual license fees.

There are over 500,000 IBCs registered in the British Virgin Islands, the bulk of which come from drug-riddled Latin America, and from Hong Kong, another British entity that operated as if it was a no man’s land, before China took it over.

For the Abuja rich and powerful, avoiding taxes is not the only thing that makes the British Virgin Islands attractive. Rich and powerful Nigerians have always avoided or evaded most taxes in Nigeria – before the coming of Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

The BVI offers rich Nigerians an opportunity to establish trusts for their children, and ensure that they do not pay taxes on them. Above all, the identity of the persons establishing the trust is never revealed. Except for legislation designed to avoid money laundering and other criminal activity, the laws are crafted to conceal and protect the real owners.

The BVI law requires those who come to register to name at least one director and one shareholder (who may be of any nationality), there is no minimum capital requirement, one does not need to open bank accounts, and if one does, no one requires one to carry out an audit.

The law does not require the filing of annual returns, and the owner(s) can hold directors’ meetings anywhere in the world, including by telephone. Only the company’s memo and articles of association is kept as a public record – and even then, their confidentiality is guaranteed! In the beginning, the rich and powerful used the BVI Trust system to save money for their children, but today, they have found it convenient as a general asset protection strategy.

There are neither requirements nor restrictions to the registration of trusts, information about trusts and trustees are not disclosed to the public, and those who register trusts are not required to file annual returns or engage in any other reporting requirements.

Trusts, like IBCs, are also exempt from all forms of tax: capital gains, capital transfer, inheritance, sales tax, VAT, income tax or stamp duty. The question that must be asked is: If Nigerians appear as fronts to consortia whose ownership and the nationality of the owners, are not disclosed, why is it difficult for our laws to frown on it?

What type of due diligence can be carried out on those organisations before they are prequalified for bidding? By the Way: Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke are the most popular of the 16 islands that are inhabited in the British Virgin Islands.


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