Kola Aluko part of probe into diverted government funds
Auction of $50.9 million One57 condo scheduled for next month
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.
An auction is scheduled for July 19. It’s the second time in about a month that a lender filed to seize property at One57 after a mortgage default. The tower, on a Midtown strip known as Billionaires’ Row for its sky-high condo prices, still holds the record for the most-expensive residential sale in New York, at $100.5 million.
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Nigeria’s Federal High Court last year issued a worldwide freeze on assets tied to Aluko, including luxury homes in New York, Los Angeles and London, three private jets, 58 cars and a yacht named the Galactica Star, the court filings show. Aluko received oil-extraction contracts from the Nigerian government, and failed to share a portion of the oil-sale proceeds, as he was required to do, according to the filings.
For Banque Havilland, the money it lent Aluko for his One57 apartment accounted for the equivalent of more than 6 percent of its loan portfolio at the end of 2015. In its annual report that year, the bank said its loans totaled 388.9 million euros. The mortgage on the One57 unit was for as much as 25 million euros, according to New York City public records.