An investigation by Premium Times has unveiled complex business dealings by pentecostal pastor, entrepreneur and President of Believer’s LoveWorld Inc (popularly known as Christ Embassy), Pastor Chris Oyakhilome.
Excerpts from the lengthy report indicate that the controversial figure (fondly called ‘Pastor Chris’) has employed financial fronts, and taken advantage of tax havens in the Carribeans to extend an already publicly impressive wealth profile. In addition, some directors in the unveiled companies hold shares on behalf of the pastor’s now teenage daughters, Carolyn and Sharon.
According to the report:
The company in question is Gmobile Nigeria Limited, an offshore firm incorporated in 2007 in a Caribbean tax haven, the British Virgin Islands, according to a cache of documents reviewed by Premium Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The shareholders listed in the documents include Oyakhilome’s wife, Anita; another pastor in his organization, Thomas Amenkhienan; a business associate, Aigobomian Inegbedion; and another British Virgin Islands’ company, GTMT International Group Limited.
Documents reviewed by ICIJ and Premium Times show that Anita Oyakhihome held 17, 750 of Gmobile’s 50,000 shares, with Amenkhienan owning 1,500 and Inegbedion 750. The fourth shareholder, GTMT International, also a British Virgin Islands’ company, owned by South African investors, held 30,000 shares.
The documents show that some of these individuals held shares in trust for two minors. The records don’t identify the minors, but Inegbedion confirmed that the minors referred to in the documents were the Oyakhilomes’ daughters, quickly adding that there was nothing wrong with that.
“Their parents bought the shares for them because they have rights to own shares,” Mr. Inegbedion said. “A day-old child has a right to own shares in companies.” He declined to say which of Gmobile directors held shares in trust for the girls.
The Oyakhilomes did not respond to emails sent to their personal and church websites.
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So what is Gmobile and how was it set up?
In 2007 Anita Oyakhilome and her partners retained the services of a Dubai-based company, Covenant Management Consultancy (CML), to help it register Gmobile Nigeria Limited in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a Caribbean chain largely controlled by the United Kingdom. On June 26, 2007, CML in turn approached BVI-based Commonwealth Trust Limited (CTL) to complete the task of setting an offshore company.
After some preliminaries — including name checks and consultation with lawyers — CML’s Susha George wrote to CTL’s Shonia Mathew on July 3 giving her the go-ahead to incorporate Gmobile. In that same two-paragraph message, George informed CTL “two shareholders of this company are minors.” She also asked whether additional documents or procedures were needed for the minors to be owners of the company.
Mathew replied the same day, saying that shares of the company could only be held in trust for the minors.
“Please note if the beneficial owners are minors, then the shares would need to be held in Trust for them until they are of age to act in that capacity,” she wrote, adding that “it may be wise to contact an attorney regarding the formalities of the company.”
Seven days after Gmobile’s incorporation, company records show, shares were issued to Anita Oyakhilome, Amenkhienan, Inegbedion and GTMT Limited, a BVI company.
Another curious aspect of the company, which became dormant on May 1, 2009, was the makeup of its board of directors. Its first director was not a human being but another offshore company, Covenant Managers Limited, an offshore firm also set up by Dubai-based Covenant Consultancy Limited in July 2005 to offer nominee services to corporations and individuals incorporating companies in the BVI. In the offshore world, nominee directors or shareholders serve as stand-ins that allow the real people behind companies to keep their identities hidden.
As first director, Covenant Managers approved the opening of a bank account in the United Arab Emirates or any other place in the world. It is not known in which bank the account was eventually opened nor whether it was used to move funds.
After Covenant Managers officially resigned, GTMT directors were brought on board together with Anita Oyakhilome, Inegbedion and Amenkhienan as directors. They were Willem Johannes Jacobus Van Der Merwe, Karen Ann Smith and Daniel John William Mills. Reporting by Premium Times determined that Van Der Merwe, Smith and Mills were based in South Africa but we could not ascertain how they came to be associated with the Oyakhilome clan.
Inegbedion said the idea of incorporating Gmobile in a tax haven was suggested by the South Africans, who he said argued that BVI was an ideal neutral ground for the business partnership the Oyakhilomes were forging with GTMT to carry out the business of distributing data compression software in Nigeria.
“We were looking for a neutral ground where both parties could feel safe,” Inegbedion said in a telephone interview. “So we had to go to British Virgin Islands. But it was our partners who handled the registration.”
The only South African partner Premium Times was able to track down, Karen Ann Smith, declined to comment on the formation and businesses of Gmobile. “You are on the wrong trip, guy, as I’m not interested in talking about that business,” Mrs. Smith said on telephone.
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Was this a failed business, or something more sinister? The report struggles for balance, but makes it clear on what it believes – that there is something unquestionably shady about the string of arrangements.
Gmobile does not appear to have carried out any business in Nigeria, South Africa or the BVI. Inegbedion and another individual who identified himself as Danny Mills made a fleeting appearance before journalists in Lagos in October 2007, almost four months after Gmobile was registered in the BVI, to say the firm was unveiling a GMobile product which allows users to maximize data storage and make an array of communications and services possible.
Danny Mills was introduced as the international sales director of Gmobile, while Inegbedion was introduced as chief operating officer of an unknown firm, LW GNet Nigeria.
Apparently, nothing has been heard of that product since that event. Today, Inegbedion introduces himself on his Facebook page as managing director of Paradigm Biz Solution Limited, a company the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission also says does not exist in its database.
Remmy Nweke, a well-regarded Lagos-based communications reporter, was among those who covered Gmobile’s press conference at the time. “Well, they came and met the media and said they were rolling out an irresistible product,” Mr. Nweke said via telephone. “But that was the last we heard of them. They simply disappeared.”
Inegbedion said Gmobile was unable to roll out the product because the company’s partners in South Africa failed to deliver after his team, led by Anita Oyakhilome, paid $1.8 million for a distribution license.
To all appearances, Gmobile was simply a failed business venture. But other companies incorporated in tax havens such as the BVI have become known for involvement with illegal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion.
In addition to its multi-million dollar recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria; Pastor Chris’s known investments have been said to include failed television station MBI and flourishing printing and publishing company, Global Plus, based in Ikeja, Lagos. He also owns satellite broadcast channels in the United Kingdom (LoveWorld TV), South Africa (LoveWorld SAT) and Nigeria (LoveWorld Plus).