Corrupt Nigerian billionaire owns stakes in New York

Features & Reports

The owner of a $50.9 million Manhattan condo that is scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction next month is Kolawole “Kola” Aluko, a Nigerian businessman accused in court filings of defrauding that country’s government.

Nigerian officials have attempted to freeze Aluko’s assets, including a full-floor penthouse at Midtown’s One57 skyscraper, as part of a wider investigation. Aluko and others are accused of pocketing $1.8 billion meant for government coffers and spending it on luxury goods around the globe, court filings in that country show.

Foreclosure proceedings were started in January on Aluko’s apartment on the 79th story of One57, which would be the costliest ever residential seizure in New York City. The 6,240-square-foot (580-square-meter) condo was bought in 2014 by a shell company listed in New York City public records as One57 79 Inc., whose sole shareholder is Earnshaw Associates Ltd. Earnshaw was set up by Aluko in the British Virgin Islands, according to the Panama Papers, a trove of documents leaked in 2016 to expose offshore tax evasion, which cite him as a shareholder and beneficiary.

In September 2015, Earnshaw took out a $35.3 million mortgage from lender Banque Havilland SA, based in Luxembourg, according to New York City public records. The full payment of the loan was due one year later, foreclosure filings in New York State Supreme Court show. The borrower failed to repay, and now Banque Havilland is forcing a sale to recoup the funds, plus interest.

Michael Lubben, a New York attorney who, according to court records, represents the mortgage borrower, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Andrew Messite, a lawyer representing Banque Havilland, also didn’t return a call. An email to Tokunbo Jaiye-Agoro, who has represented Aluko in the Nigerian court case, and calls and emails to his law firm, Jaiye Agoro & Co., weren’t returned. The New York Post on Monday night identified Aluko as the condo’s owner.

–Bloomberg