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A PRESIDENTIAL PANDORA'S BOX
President Uhuru Kenyatta promised a comprehensive statement on the Pandora papers; here's our wish list.
If you are married (or have a significant other in your life) then you will understand just how sacrosanct anniversaries are. So I readily embraced my dear wife’s magnanimity in not complaining too loudly that I was going to spend ours behind a desk, with Finance Uncovered’s Data Fellow Purity Mukami in tow. We were drafting, checking, and re-drafting right of response letters for the report that she, her colleague Simon Bowers and I would be sending to the subjects of an investigation we had spent months on. After all, it isn’t every day that you are sending questions to the President of your country AND members of his family.
As we wrote to give Kenya’s head of state, his mother, sisters, and brother an opportunity to respond to the findings from a leak that is now globally known as The Pandora Papers, our thoughts were on the nature of what we had found. Certificates of incorporation, internal documents, land registry details, and share registers detailing the ownership of a London apartment, a portfolio of investments worth over US$30 million, and the existence of foundations and companies belonging to the Kenyattas. Most of the entities were fronted by walls of nominee directorships, hiding their ultimate beneficial owners in a fashion typical of many offshore jurisdictions. For the uninitiated, these documents are hardly ever availed to the public in any way shape or form. Let’s be clear: the way these structures were created in the British Virgin Islands and Panama – using controversial Swiss wealth advisers – is not the same as merely having a foreign bank account. Secrecy, it seemed, was the point.
The laborious process of putting our questions together came towards the end of months of digging, connecting, and understanding just what had been availed to us by the International Consortium of Investigative journalists, which had obtained a massive leak of data from 14 offshore service providers.
Here, credit largely goes to the Finance Uncovered team.
Then came the verification of documents, and fact-checking every statement for accuracy, fairness and balance. It was important to us that as we reported about the single most powerful politician in Kenya and members of his family, we accorded them a fair hearing and stuck to the facts. This is what thorough, public interest investigative journalism is all about.
We wrote to the President and his family with detailed questions and gave them ample time to respond. They did not do so.
We are now a week after we published and have seen how our painstaking reporting was received. Most surprising, of course, was President Kenyatta’s response.
Kenyatta, who we included on account of him being a second beneficiary to a Panamanian foundation set up months after becoming leader of Kenya’s official opposition in 2003, gave a most curious statement.
He welcomed the Pandora Papers, saying that it was important to shine a light on secrecy that is often used to shield illicit financial flows. The kicker to his statement was that he would make a more comprehensive response. It is assumed that this response will cover President Kenyatta’s thoughts on his and his family’s inclusion in the leaks. We look forward to it, and hope that he can answer the following questions:
Why did his family choose to set up these offshore entities – and in the highly secretive jurisdictions of Panama and the British Virgin Islands?]
The evidence in the leaks only gives a limited picture as to what assets are held offshore. Can you disclose precise details as to the identity and value of assets held by the Kenyatta family in tax havens?
Why were several of these entities formed during the Kibaki government which was investigating whether the wealth of his predecessors and their associates had been improperly acquired?’
What is the source of the funds that are held in these companies?
What are his thoughts on his family’s use of the same enablers who helped funnel money by some of Africa’s most corrupt leaders?
Our reporting, as well as the hundreds of reports produced by journalists around the world on their own leaders and elite elicited a huge reaction. But in the age of spin, a good chunk of the response has been disappointing. Politicians and their advisers have spun the Pandora Papers as some sort of attempt to distract Kenyans from the political discussion about other corrupt leaders at home.
This of course is a most laughable lie. That the ICIJ helped convene the biggest investigative collaboration in living history to confuse Kenya’s local feudal politics is a most ridiculous idea. Also: that the Kenyattas’wealth in offshore locations amounts to US$30 million. This, again, isn’t true. Our reporting was precise that this amount was tied only to a Muhoho Kenyatta-owned company. The documentation we have seen (and published for good measure) is clear as day in this respect.
The misinterpretation of facts and outright falsifying of our findings is an unfortunate hallmark of the times we live in. It will not distract us from our duty, which is to report the facts. We believe we acquitted ourselves well in this respect.
While we cannot control the ultimate impact of our reporting, we hope it leads to more transparency. In this, we share President Uhuru Kenyatta’s hope. The question we asked wasn’t so much about how much money that the Kenyattas, one of Kenya’s wealthiest families have offshore, but more about the secretive manner in which they did it.
So if transparency is a shared goal between our publishing and the President’s press statement on Monday, we hope that it is true transparency in word and in deed.