Reports emerged in the Nigerian press this week indicating Bamise and Elizabeth Ajetunmobi, a couple alleged to have fled the country last week after defrauding local investors of up to NGN 22 billion (some US$54 million), had obtained Antiguan citizenships through the country’s CIP in April this year.
Copies of what appeared to be the family’s passports were circulated in the local news media. Nigerians who say they’ve had their money stolen have shared their stories in WhatsApp groups and online fora set up for those affected. Reports claim the couple’s firm – Imagine Global Solutions, ostensibly a micro-lending service targeting small and medium-sized businesses – was a Ponzi scheme in the conventional sense of the term; paying too-good-to-be-true rates of return to early investors and leaving later ones with nothing.
The couple’s absence from Nigeria was first discovered last weekend. Nigerian newspaper People’s Gazette reported on Tuesday that the couple appeared to have obtained Antiguan passports in late April and early May this year, months ahead of the alleged Ponzi scandal coming to light.
“Just a matter of time” before they are repatriated
Upon learning of the reports from a Member of Parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne swiftly promised to do what he could to bring the couple, if guilty, to justice.
According to the Antigua Observer, the PM said he had learned “that he and his wife obtained Antiguan and Barbudan passports and citizenship under the CIP and now that person is now wanted for defrauding a number of Nigerians.”
Adding that he had not verified the claims, he nonetheless promised to apprehend the individuals should they find their way to Antigua & Barbuda.
“I have already put systems in place to ensure that if he is not here as yet that they could capture him on his way here because Antigua & Barbuda is not going to be a refuge for scamps,” the PM emphasized.
The PM reiterated statements he has made on similar occasions in the past, namely that the program’s purpose was to attract and incentivize legitimate investment, and not to make Antigua & Barbuda a “safe haven for crooks.”
His administration, he assured Parliament, would “continue to do all in its power to ensure that those who violate and seek refuge here that eventually they are repatriated whence they came. It’s just a matter of time. Some of them may get temporary refuge here but we have no doubt that ultimately, they will be repatriated.”
IMI has not been able to independently verify that the couple have become Antiguan citizens through investment, nor, indeed, the veracity of the claims leveled against them. At first glance, there is nothing to suggest any breach in the Antigua & Barbuda CIP’s integrity or a lapse in due diligence procedures, as the business reputation of the couple appears to have been a sterling one right up until last week.
Antigua & Barbuda’s apparent inculpability notwithstanding, this regrettable matter is likely to be cited in future media reports as an indictment of CIPs altogether, as has been the case on many occasions in the past.
Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine – online or offline – for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.