Panama Papers links Namibian lawyer to mafia
A Namibian lawyer has cropped up in a web of offshore companies with connections to the notorious Italian mafia known as the Cosa Nostra. Henner Diekmann, a Windhoek-based attorney, has been denying to The Namibian since last year that he had any connections to the mafia.
Yet Namibian government intelligence documents containing communication between the Namibian and Italian governments as well as the leak about tax avoidance schemes in offshore shell companies dubbed the Panama Papers have placed Diekmann in the mix as business owner, director and sometimes owner of mafia-linked companies.
Until now, the mafia’s connection to Namibia has been pinned only on Zacky Nujoma, the son of former President Sam Nujoma.
However, information from the Panama Papers links Dickmann, a 50-year-old born at Otjiwarongo, to at least six companies connected to the underworld. He is linked to three more offshore firms that we could not directly link to the mafia.
Intelligence said Diekmann’s connection to the mafia are also supported by communications between the Namibian government and Italy during the investigation of the Cosa Nostra man, Robert Von Palace Kolbatschenko, better known in this part of the world as Vito Palazzolo.
That dossier claims that Diekmann’s connection to Palazzolo, who is serving jail time in Italy for organised-crime relates to among them, Komsberg Farming in Namibia, through which the Palazzolos are said to have initially hidden their wealth.
Diekmann did not respond to detailed questions sent to him at the time about his apparent links to the mafia but denied the connection. “I reject your allegations with the contempt they deserve,” he said.
The mafia has succeeded in shielding their money from investigations in countries such as Namibia, Italy and South Africa by using offshore companies. It is likely that the mafia used offshore companies to transfer money and property that were questioned by governments.
Most of the information regarding Diekmann and his offshore links is revealed in internal data of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm, following the leak of its data that showed it as running tax-haven schemes.
The Mossack Fonseca data was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Diekmann was still an active user of Mossack Fonseca services until October last year. His Namibian-based law firm, Diekmann Associates, created or linked offshore companies in tax havens with the help of Mossack Fonseca, which aids the super-rich, money launderers and other criminals to hide their money and possibly evade tax through a secretive web of shell companies.
The use of tax havens enables companies – or criminals camouflaged by corporate structures – to conceal financial activities and identities using banking secrecy. They also are viewed as robbing nations where businesses operate of much-needed tax income by setting up complex on-paper transactions.
Diekmann’s connection to the offshore world started in May 2008 when he wrote an email to Mossack Fonseca asking for a password and username for him to use their website. A Mossack Fonseca official replied that Diekmann Associates did not appear as a direct client of it. “Could you please let us know the name of the company that you are writing on behalf of, so that we may better tailor our services to your needs?” the official told him.
Diekmann replied: “I was referred to you by Wolf-Peter Berthold of Deutsche Asia in Hong Kong. He also mailed me a list of available companies as per your office in Hong Kong.”
Berthold, the man who Diekmann said referred him to Mossack Fonseca, is the same German banker based in Hong Kong, who The Namibian reported last month as having helped Palazzolo, to set up seven offshore firms through his company Deutsche Investment Consultants (Asia).
Documents show that Diekmann and Berthold have over three offshore companies in common, either is shareholders or directors. Berthold did not respond to our requests for an interview sent via email.
Regent Holdings and Gold Enterprise
The same Berthold created and directed a Seychelles based company named Regent Holdings in February 2008. Its directorship was passed on to Diekmann on 19 December 2012 while its shareholders were named as the Diekmann Trust, a Hong Kong entity.
Berthold also created Gold Enterprise in Seychelles in 2007. That same company was transferred to another offshore haven, based in the Cayman Islands, called Evening Star Yachting Ltd in January 2011.
Three months later, an offshore middleman, Ivan Lee, wrote an email in which he copied Diekmann, Palazzolo (as ‘Robert von Palace’) and Berthold. This suggests that it was necessary for the Namibian lawyer to be updated about the transfer of ownership of Gold Enterprise when it changed hands: a company in which Palazzolo, in all likelihood, also had a financial interest.
In 2012, Gold Enterprise was sold to Forsys Metal Corp, a Canadian company that partnered with Palazzolo a few years back.
Officials in Mossack Fonseca raised red flags about Forsys.“After carefully reviewing the search results (due diligence) and the background of the change of administration and because of the new administrator’s activity, we consider we will need to ask for enhanced due diligence, which includes the ultimate beneficial owner documentation, as well as confirmation about the accounting records,” an official said.
When Gold Enterprises failed to disclose who its real owners were, Mossack Fonseca resigned as a registry agent for the company in July 2013. This is another sign the real owners were questionable, even by Mossack Fonseca standards.
Dunefield and Best Resources
Diekmann also enquired on buying shares in Dunefield Mining, a subsidiary of the Canadian-owned Forsys Metal Limited. Forsys partnered with Namibian black economic empowerment firm Ancash Investments. Ancash is owned by Zacky Nujoma, the son of former Namibian president Nujoma, a major partner with Palazzolo.
Best Resources Enterprise was set up in 2008. One of its directors was Deutsche Investments Consultants, owned by Berthold, who is implicated in helping Palazzolo set up shell companies. The other two directors are Diekmann, and renowned diamond dealer Roni Rydlewicz, from November 2008 until to March 2011. Rydlewicz served as a director of a Namibian mafia-owned company called Nu Diamonds.
A survey of the data above from the Mossack Fonseca leak shows that Diekmann’s name crops up in association with Palazzolo, or people or companies in which the jailed mafia financier likely holds an interest, quite a few times.
However, Diekmann denies that he is in business with Palazzolo when he responded to our questions via email, claiming that he was only the lawyer for clients who were shareholders in some of the businesses exposed in the Mossack Fonseca leak such as Regent Holdings.
He has not disclosed who these investor-clients of his may be, at this stage. Taken on his word, Diekmann seems to be the attorney of choice for individuals investing in companies connected to Berthold or Palazzolo.
Diekmann’s possible association to the mafia was first picked up in 2014, when the Italian government actively started investigating Palazzolo’s assets, including those in Namibia. As part of this process, the Italy requested assistance from Namibia to trace the convicted mafioso’s property in the country. The Namibian has seen communication between the two governments.
The Namibian government informed Italy that Palazzolo was linked to at least eight companies in the country. At the time, Namibian financial intelligence questioned Diekmann’s links to firms such as Komsberg Farming and Mannheim Investments, which are connected to the mafia.
Diekmann was a director of Komsberg from December 1999 to 2010. He served alongside South African Michael Louis, Zimbabwean Anthony Taberer, as well asthree other Namibians, Werner Nitsche, Eliakim Shiimi and Mikka Asino, who is a nephew of former president Nujoma.
Sources said the bulk of Palazzolo’s property in Namibia were listed as belonging to Komsberg Farming. It is difficult to trace that now as Komsberg Farming has been liquidated.
Diekmann was also a director of Mannheim Investments in December 2006, alongside Nujoma’s son Zacky, businessperson Meriam Onesmus and Palazzolo’s son, Peter Von Palace Kolbatschenko. The company’s business address was listed as Diekmann Associates’ business address in Robert Mugabe Avenue in Windhoek.
Diekmann is connected to companies owned by the jailed Palazzolo, a key financier of the Cosa Nostra, an Italian mafia group described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as specialising in political corruption, arms trafficking, fraud and other crimes.
“The Sicilian Mafia is infamous for its aggressive assaults on Italian law enforcement officials. High-ranking victims include police commissioners, mayors, judges, police colonels and generals, and Parliament members,” the FBI said on its website.
These groups don’t limit themselves to drug running, the FBI said, warning that “they’re also involved in illegal gambling, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings and weapons trafficking”.
Diekmann did not respond to detailed questions sent to him about his apparent links to the mafia, saying he needed more time to answer the questions. This is after he was given more tha a month to answer.
“I reject your allegations with the contempt they deserve,” he said.
He said he forwarded our questions to the investors and Namibian shareholders in respect of the 2008 and 2012 transactions but they have not yet responded.
“I am shocked regarding the allegations contained in your latest email. The allegations are wrongful and defamatory and I am in the rather unfortunate position not being able to provide you with a detailed reply unless I have a mandate from the investors/Namibian shareholders who were parties to the transactions,” Diekmann said.
Diekmann said he knows about Regent Holdings, the company created by Berthold, saying his involvement was in 2008 when he helped overseas investors acquire shares in various Namibian companies with mining licences in Namibia.
He said he was among lawyers who provided legal advice to some of the Namibian-based shareholders.
Diekmann said a “know your client” and due diligence were conducted by the various law firms involved during both the 2008 and the 2012 transactions in respect of the foreign investors, their offshore companies as well as the Namibian shareholders, and all were found to be in good standing.
On April 8 2015 Diekmann, via email denied any links to Palazzolo, to The Namibian. “I am not a business partner of Mr Robert von Palace.
“We drafted agreements of sale on behalf of clients who sold their properties to Mr Robert von Palace. We advised our clients as sellers of these properties and not Mr Robert von Palace as purchaser,” he said.
No evidence has come to light in the Mossack Fonseca leaks that Diekmann is a business partner of Palazzolo, but there is proof that he worked, owned and directed firms linked to Palazzolo.
Diekmann admitted that he was a director of Komsberg Farming, but insisted that it never dealt with Palazzolo.
“I am rather surprised that Komsberg Farming is listed as one of the entities purportedly belonging to Mr von Palace (Palazollo),” he said, in his response last year.
Diekmann emailed The Namibian on May 3 2016 with the following statement.
“I have not been able to meet you today. Regarding the further details as requested by you, I confirm that we still do not have a mandate to provide you with any further details, other than what is set out in my email of 30 March. As advised earlier, we requested the investors and Namibian shareholders in respect of both transactions to revert to you directly.
With reference to your email of 25 April, I confirm that the intermediary has been appointed as the first director and shareholder of all shelf companies registered on its behalf, which is common practice. Despite the intermediary appearing as first director and shareholder in all shelf companies registered on its behalf, there is no link between the 2008 and 2012 investors, or to any of the other shelf companies registered on behalf of the intermediary. We were not aware of any of the other shelf companies registered on behalf of the intermediary, or to whom they were sold. There is also no link to any of the other persons mentioned in your missive of 25 April. We deny your allegations with the contempt they deserve, and reserve all our rights. The investors will institute legal action in respect of any damages which they may sustain.”
This article was produced by The Namibian’s investigative unit in collaboration with the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting.