Since the so-called “new” documents that were going to be submitted by the Sharifs to the Supreme Court in the Panama Papers hearings, which certain sections of the media were calling “game changers”, I have been coming across images of these in social media. Since the first time I saw them, some things seemed odd. So, I decided to look at them a little bit closer, and here’s what I found.
I focused on 5 documents:
- Letter from Minerva Holdings to Hussain Sharif dated December 20th, 2016 confirming that Minerva Trust & Corporate Services Limited started to manage Nescoll Limited (“Nescoll”) and Nielsen Enterprises Limited (“Nielsen”) on January 26th, 2006 (“Minerva Letter”); Minerva Letter – 20 Dec 2016
- Two letters from JPCA Limited, Corporate Accountants confirming their take over of services for secretarial administration for Nescoll and Nielsen on June 2nd, 2014, and that they received all instructions from Hussain Sharif, never having met Maryam Safdar (“JPCA Letters”); JPCA Letters
- Letter of Credit and Truck Consignment Note for the export of rolling mill equipment from Ahli Steel Company Limited (Ahli), formerly Gulf Steel, to Alaziziya Steel Factory Limited (Aziziya). (“LC and Consignment Note”) LC and Consignment Note
- Invoice from Ahli to Aziziya for the sale of rolling mill equipment. (“Ahli Steel Invoice”) Ahli Steel Invoice
- UAE Customs Bill of Export said to be for the rolling mill equipment exported from UAE to Saudi Arabia by Ahli (“Bill of Export”) Bill of Export
The black markings, underlines, handwriting, etc. on the copies of the documents I have uploaded are mine.
The first thing I noticed about the Minerva Letter was the informality of how it was addressed to Hussain Sharif using his first name, suggesting familiarity (even friendship). From the first line of the letter, it is clear that Hussain wrote to Umesh Sahal, a Director at Minerva Holdings, about their meeting in 2006 at Hasan Sharif’s office in London. We can only guess what the contents of that letter might have been, but from the second paragraph it appears that Hussain requested Sahal to confirm in writing that the meeting did indeed take place and Minerva Trust & Corporate Services, presumably another company that Sahal is involved with, took over “management” (whatever that means) of Nescoll and Nielsen. So, this letter from Sahal was requested by Hussain Sharif in late 2016, after the Supreme Court had taken up the case.
Interestingly, Sahal responded to the request very quickly. Hussain Sharif’s letter to him, that he references, was dated December 19th (a Monday) and he wrote back the very next day, on Tuesday December 20th, 2016. Must have known it was urgent!
Another interesting thing to note is that Sahal states Minerva took over management of Nescoll and Nielsen on January 26th, 2006. This was actually BEFORE the date of the Declaration of Trust documentation that was presented to the Court, which was said to be dated February 2nd, 2006. What that means is that, if you accept all the documents as genuine, the brothers met Sahal sometime in January, his firm then started to provide management services for the two offshore companies, and a few days later, Maryam Safdar was appointed trustee. What is not clear at all from this letter is who the beneficial owner was in January. Presumably, the implication is that since Sahal took instructions from Hussain Sharif, he was the owner. However, there is nothing that shows no one else was at the meeting, or that Hussain Sharif did not have authorization to act on his sister’s behalf, or that he was not acting in some other capacity (such as Director of the companies) that empowered him to appoint Minerva.
There are two letters from JPCA, not one. The first is dated January 11th, 2017 and the second is February 15th. Both days happen to be Wednesday. The reference number of both letters is the same. This seems odd, but may not be as some firms may not use a unique referencing system.
The most interesting thing about these letters is how the letter head is misaligned, as if the paper was inserted into the printer incorrectly. I drew lines from the company name across to the right of the page where the address is, and back from the address to the left of the page to clearly show how crooked it is. However, only the company name and the words “Corporate Accountants” under it are crooked; the address is not. This indicates that only JPCA Limited, Corporate Accountants was pre-printed on the letterhead and their address was actually typed up with the letter, which is unusual, as you would normally expect a letter head to be pre-printed with both the company’s name and it’s address and contact information.
Both letters, signed by Graham Gardner, refer to a meeting the company held with Hussain Sharif in 2014 to discuss his firm taking over the secretarial administration (I am assuming this is what Sahal referred to as “management” in the Minerva Letter) of Nescoll and Nielsen from Minerva Financial Services (which is a different company name to the one in the Minerva Letter, which was Minerva Trust & Corporate Services), which they did from June 2nd, 2014. The first letter actually refers to an engagement letter, which is like a contract for services between a professional firm and its clients, but that was said to have been dated August 1st, 2014, meaning JPCA provided services for two months without an engagement letter being in place, which is irregular and unusual. This reference to the engagement letter was, however, deleted from the second letter.
The second, later letter, issued five weeks after the first, seems like it was a second iteration, a revision of the first. Apart from the date, and the deletion of the reference to the engagement letter, the significant change from the earlier version is the paragraph that refers to the Declaration of Trust of Calibri fame that the Sharifs claims shows Maryam Safdar held the shares of Nescoll and Nielsen as trustee, not beneficial owner. Between the dates of the first and second letters, PTI lawyers in the Supreme Court had claimed Maryam Safdar was the beneficial owner based on the letter from Minerva to the British Virgin Islands’ Financial Investigation Agency (FIA). Quite the coincidence, isn’t it? Also, the crooked letterhead features again in the second letter.
Why they would submit both versions of the letter and why Gardner would write letters that contain a false statement about having seen the Declaration of Trust that, if the Calibri argument is correct, could not have existed in 2006, I don’t know. A possible explanation is incompetence and forgery, which is not beyond the realms of possibility. Or maybe the Trust Deed had already been forged (back dated to 2006) before the meetings in 2014 that Gardner refers to in his letter.
Some people have referred to the address on the JPCA website being different from that on the letters. That is actually not an issue because if you search for JPCA Limited on the website of Companies House, UK, you will find the company changed address in July 2017, after the letters were written, and was at the Tweedy Road, Bromley address prior to that.
LC and Consignment Note
The Documentary Credit (or Letter of Credit) has been issued by HSBC Bank Middle East for Azizya, the importer (or buyer), in favor of Ahli, the exporter (or seller). The amount of the LC is $650,000 for second hand rolling mill equipment in dismantled form to be shipped/dispatched from Sharjah to Hadda, near Jeddah. The LC date is August 15th, 2001 and it refers to a proforma invoice dated August 11th, 2001.
The consignment note is issued by Fairyland Cargo showing goods being shipped on vehicle number 212 from Sharjah to Azizya (spelled incorrectly on that document, without the ‘y’). The other details on this document are consistent with other related documentation, except that the shipment date of September 5th, 2001, which appears to have been typed in using a manual typewriter after the document was printed (not in itself very unusual), is two days after the date on the Bill of Export (see below). This is a little unusual, but it is not unthinkable that government formalities (such as Bill of Export) are completed a couple of days prior to the actual shipment date. What is more unusual is the Vehicle Number 212. This indicates to me that it is referencing one truck, not sixty as was indicated by Hussain Sharif in his interviews. Perhaps just one of several consignment notes have been included, but that is an open, unanswered question.
So, the sequence of events, so far, is as follows:
- Proforma Invoice issued on August 11th, 2001 – we don’t know the amount or details because I have not seen a copy of the proforma invoice.
- Documentary Credit (LC) issued on August 15th, 2001 for $650,000.
- Equipment shipped/dispatched by truck on September 5th, 2001
Ahli Steel Invoice
This document is an invoice issued by Ahli, the exporter, to Aziziya (again spelled without the ‘y’), the importer, dated August 25th, 2001. Most particulars on this invoice are consistent with other documents but there in one glaring issue: the invoice amount of just $12,200. I cannot understand why someone would establish a $650,000 Letter of Credit to import something that they are only required to pay $12,200 for.
The other question is about the name of the LC issuing bank, which is stated as Saudi British Bank, not HSBC Middle East, but the LC number is consistent with other documents. I think I may be reading this wrong and that HSBC Middle East was the receiving bank in Sharjah, not the sender. The issuing bank, in that case, is not clear from the LC document, which you would normally expect to see in the header.
Also note the invoice does not appear to be system generated from an ERP or accounting software. It also does not appear to be printed on pre-numbered stationery, but looks like it was printed from a word processing or spreadsheet software, such as Microsoft Word or Excel. This is unusual for a manufacturing company that I would expect to be subject to internal controls requirements by local corporate regulations, compliance of which would be reviewed by its auditors. Having system generated or pre-numbered invoices, any student of accountancy will tell you, is one of the most basic internal controls to ensure completeness of revenue recorded by a company.
The big question is still on the invoice value. The only possible explanation that I can think of is that it is just one of several invoices, for the entire transaction, but I can’t think of a good reason why anyone would want to break it up like that.
Bill of Export
This yellow copy is not very good quality and it is hard to read, and is partially in Arabic, which I do not understand, so I may have missed or misunderstood some things. Apart from the fact that not all fields are complete, which you would expect from an official government document, there are two big questions about this document: the HS Code and the Value.
The HS Code stated on the Bill of Export is 85118000, which, if you search on the Dubai Customs website is described as “electrical ignition or starting equipment of a kind used for spark-ignition or compression-ignition”. This is not a rolling mill. It could be a part of the overall equipment and would fit the possible explanation that these documents pertain to just one of several trucks of equipment that the entire rolling mill was loaded on.
The value of the export stated on the document is AED 102,333, which converted at the 2001 exchange rate of 3.67 AED per USD converts to $27,884, which matches neither the LC value of $650,000 not the Invoice value of $12,200. Not sure what to make of this or what possible explanation there could be.
All in all, lots of inconsistencies and unanswered questions. No wonder the Supreme Court did not seem to accept these as valid and sections of the media have termed these new documents as “fake”. Whichever way you look at it, certainly not a game-changer. Not even close.