Nassau, Bahamas. Image: Shutterstock
A cache of leaked documents provides names of politicians and others linked to more than 175,000 Bahamian companies registered between 1990 and 2016, according to a recent article by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
For years, Neelie Kroes traveled Europe as one of the continent’s senior officials, warning big corporations that they couldn’t “run away” from the European Union’s rules. The Dutch politician sympathized with average citizens who worried they’d been left to pay the bills “as infringers cream off the extra profits.”
As the EU’s commissioner for competition policy from 2004 until 2010, she was Europe’s top corporate enforcer and made Forbes magazine’s annual list of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” five times.
What Kroes never told audiences – and didn’t tell European Commission officials in mandatory disclosures – was that she had been listed as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas, the Caribbean tax haven whose secrecy and tax structures have attracted multinational companies and criminals alike.
Kroes was listed as director of a Bahamian company from 2000 to 2009, according to documents reviewed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Kroes, through a lawyer, told ICIJ and media partners that she did not declare her directorship of the company because it was never operational. Kroes’ lawyer blamed her appearance on company records as “a clerical oversight which was not corrected until 2009.” Her lawyer said the company, set up through a Jordanian businessman and friend of Kroes, had been created to investigate the possibility of raising money to purchase assets – worth more than $6 billion – from Enron Corp., the American energy giant. The deal never came off, and Enron later collapsed amid a massive accounting scandal.
Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman with powers to investigate alleged breaches of EU rules and procedures, did not comment on the Kroes’ case but said: “When the rules are breached, whether accidentally or otherwise, the negative impression it leaves with the public tends to resonate more strongly than any positive counter steps subsequently undertaken.”
Details of Kroes’ link to the offshore company are among the revelations found in a new leak of documents, received by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with ICIJ, that disclose details behind companies incorporated in the Bahamas. The cache of 1.3 million files from the island nation’s corporate registry provides names of directors and some owners of more than 175,000 Bahamian companies, trusts and foundations registered between 1990 and early 2016.
The data released today involve the basic building blocks of offshore companies: a company’s name, its date of creation, the physical and mailing address in the Bahamas and, in some cases, the company’s directors. At a basic level, this information is crucial to day-to-day commerce. In other cases, police, detectives and fraud investigators use registries as starting points on the trail of wrongdoing.
“Corporate registries are incredibly important,” said Debra LaPrevotte, a former U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent whose work included tracing billions of dollars in bribes and corruption proceeds hidden in tax havens for politicians from Ukraine, Nigeria and Bangladesh. “Offshore companies are often used as intermediaries to facilitate money laundering and, frequently, the companies are only used to open bank accounts, thus the corporate registry documents, which might identify the beneficial owners, are part of the evidence.”
Unlike the Panama Papers, 11.5 million often-detailed emails, contracts, audio recordings and other documents from one law firm, the information listed in the new Bahamian documents is plainer — if still fundamental — in content. The new data does not make it clear, for example, whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.
When paired with the Panama Papers, the Bahamas data provide fresh insights into the offshore dealings of politicians, criminals and executives as well as the bankers and lawyers who help move money.
The new leaked documents include the names of 539 registered agents— corporate middlemen who serve as intermediaries between Bahamian authorities and customers who wish to create an offshore company. Among them is Mossack Fonseca, the law firm whose leaked files formed the basis of the Panama Papers. The firm set up 15,915 entities in the Bahamas, making it Mossack Fonseca’s third busiest jurisdiction. At one point, Bahamian companies were among Mossack Fonseca’s best-sellers.
Read the complete article on the ICIJ web site here.
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