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Investigating beneficial ownership and other assets

Member: Nifa

Dubbed “Africa’s youngest billionaire”, Ashish Thakkar has recently lost a ruling over the ownership of family assets in his divorce case. Mr Thakkar, who claims to have assets of just £445,532, says he has no control over Mara Group Holdings Ltd and Inspire Group Holdings and that the shares are held by his family. However, High Court judge, Mr Justice Moor, called this a “blatant lie”.

Mr Thakkar and journalist Meera Manek are in the throes of a divorce after five years of marriage. According to Miss Manek, Mr Thakkar is hiding his assets offshore in a bid to stop her getting her fair share in the financial settlement and the result of the case will have ramifications in the proceedings where another judge will have to decide how much Mr Thakkar is worth.

Mr Thakkar, his father and sister all testified in the High Court in a bid to persuade the court that the beneficiaries of the two main family businesses are his mother and sister. However, Judge Moor found the testimony “palpable nonsense”, adding that he believed he had been repeatedly lied to by all three witnesses, which has extremely serious consequences for the rest of their evidence.

It will now be an uphill struggle for Mr Thakkar to prove that what he said is true. According to his disclosed public and closely held assets, he could have a net worth of around £360m, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Miss Manek’s team of forensic investigators will no doubt be scrutinising all of these sources in order for her to receive her fair share.

Forensic accountants are expert at identifying the ultimate beneficial owner of a business through a number of means. For example, they will analyse annual accounts and corporate reports, identify where nominee shareholders or offshore havens are being used to conceal the true owners and trace corporate structures through international country registers.

They also take into account news reports and one very obvious piece of news in this case is that Mr Thakkar was able to buy a ticket into space on Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic passenger rocket, which cost him £160,000. The judge certainly seems to have thought that his evidence might as well have come from another planet!

Author: Roger Isaacs, 3 March 2017

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