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Panama Papers: Iceland’s Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson Resigns

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  • As David Mark is dragged into global secret assets storm

Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson became the first major casualty of the Panama Papers revelations, stepping down on Tuesday after leaked files showed his wife owned an offshore firm with big claims on the country’s collapsed banks.

The ruling Progressive Party’s deputy leader Sigurdur Ingi Johansson, who holds the fisheries and agriculture portfolio, told reporters after a party meeting that the party planned to name him as the new leader.

Gunnlaugsson stepped down ahead of a planned vote of no-confidence, hours after asking President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to dissolve parliament.

The president had said he would talk with the main parties before making a decision. Dissolving parliament would almost certainly lead to a new election.

On Monday, the opposition filed a motion of no-confidence and thousands of Icelanders gathered in front of parliament, hurling eggs and bananas and demanding the departure of the leader of the center-right coalition government, in power since 2013.

Gunnlaugsson is the first casualty of the so-called “Panama Papers” — millions of leaked documents revealing financial arrangements of politicians and public figures from around the world from a Panama law firm that specializes in setting up offshore companies.

The prime minister has said his wife’s overseas assets were taxed in Iceland.

But his opponents say he should have been open about the overseas assets and the company, and that he had a conflict of interest because the government is involved in striking deals with claimants against the bankrupt banks.

A government spokesman has said the claims against Iceland’s collapsed banks held by the firm owned by the prime minister’s wife – in which he also temporarily held a stake — totaled more than 500 million Icelandic crowns ($4.1 million).

Iceland’s main commercial banks collapsed as the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and many Icelanders have blamed the North Atlantic island nation’s politicians for not reigning in the banks’ debt-fueled binge and averting a deep recession.

A new election could see victory for the anti-establishment Pirate Party, according to polls the most popular political force in Iceland, which espouses grassroots democracy and transparency.

In the meantime, former Senate President David Mark has been associated with running eight offshore companies registered on the British Virgin Island.

His former wife is also listed as owning shell accounts.

Senator Mark (Benue South), who recently won re-election into the upper chamber for the fifth time, is the latest Nigerian to be named in the files belonging to Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The firm, reputed as one of the most secretive companies in the world, helped clients to register offshore entities, some of which are then used to launder money, evade tax and dodge sanctions.

Senate President Bukola Saraki’s wife, former Delta State Governor James Ibori, Saraki’s brother Laolu, his associates Obi Asika and Olufela Ibidapo, have also been named as running shell companies that are listed in what is known as the Panama Papers.

The global scandal claimed Iceland Prime Minister’s job yesterday following pressure from the citizens.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron, whose dad Ian was named, denied having anything to do with the Panama Papers. But the opposition Labour Party called for an independent inquiry.

The revelations are among the findings of a lengthy investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other global news organisations.

The companies associated with Mark are: Sikera Overseas S.A, Colsan Enterprises Limited, Goldwin Transworld Limited, Hartland Estates Limited, Marlin Holdings Limited, Medley Holdings Limited, Quetta Properties Limited and Centenary Holdings Limited.

In the documents, Mark is  repeatedly marked as a politically exposed person. At a point, the former Senate President sent documents, across to Mosseca Fonseca to prove that he was clean.

The businesses Mark is conducting with the companies could not be ascertained.

Online newspaper Premium Times quoted a previous investigation it conducted as showing that Mark’s estranged wife, Vikky Preye Mark, was also exposed as an operator of secret offshore accounts.

Mrs. Mark operated an account with the Swiss branch of HSBC, but with details made largely secret.

Although she was known within the bank as the beneficial owner of the account, she was largely identified with a secret code – 14312MP.

Mrs. Mark opened the account on December 18, 1989 and closed it on July 12, 1991. About that time, her husband, then a top ranking army officer, had served as military administrator of Niger State and minister of Communications.

Court papers during a messy divorce with his wife suggested that some of Mark’s children schooled in Switzerland, but it is not clear whether it was during that period that Mrs. Mark operated the HSBC account.

The court papers also showed that the Marks operated foreign accounts elsewhere.

About six million pounds in four accounts – three at the Northern Bank, Isle of Man, and one at the Allied Irish Bank, Jersey – were frozen in October 2000 as a result of the ancillary relief sought by Victoria Mark in the couple’s divorce case.

If proven that he ran the accounts, the senator may have run foul of the law.

Part 1, Section 7 of the Code of Conduct law provides that “any public officer specified in the Second Schedule to this Act or any other persons as the President may, from time to time, by order prescribe, shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria”.

Section 23 of the Code of Conduct law stipulates punishment for violators as follows:

(1) Where the (Code of Conduct) Tribunal finds a public officer guilty of contravening any of the provisions of this Act, it shall impose upon that officer any of the punishments specified under subsection (2) of this section.

(2) The punishment which the Tribunal may impose shall include any of the following-

(a) vacation of office or any elective or nominated office, as the case may be; and

(b) disqualification from holding any public office (whether elective or not) for a period not exceeding ten years.

The former senate president could not be reached for comments yesterday.

Premium Times quoted his spokesman Paul Mumeh as saying: “I’m not sure about the accuracy of your claims. I need to consult him before commenting.”

Later last night, Mark’s spokesman Paul Mumeh said: “I’m not sure about the accuracy of your claims. We know where that may be coming from. It is political.”

NBC with additional report from Nation

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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