V is for Vistra: but where is it based in New Zealand?

The Vistra Group is one of the major international trust and fiduciary firms, and appears many times in the Panama Papers. So not surprisingly it has a presence in New Zealand. The question is where, or perhaps, who represents Vistra’s interests. Vistra has been expanding its European base, especially in Switzerland, where it has taken over a firm called Althea to expand its Geneva office. As I will show, Vistra’s offices appear to have some autonomy. Meanwhile, the website states that it is located in Wellington, and the contact is David Rudge, but he is obviously still based in London. The location given is on Lambton Quay, in the offices of RPH Consulting, which is run by Ross John Hanning. He will crop up in later posts, but Vistra’s links to New Zealand actually start in Auckland and Wellington, with a diversion to Tauranga because of its remaining links to the Melvilles.

So there are two main trust companies set up for Vistra in New Zealand: Vistra (New Zealand) Trustees Ltd, and Vistra Trust Company (New Zealand) Ltd. Vistra Trustees has been on the New Zealand company register for over a decade, and was set up by the Asiaciti Trust company in Auckland. The directors for this company have been a movable feast, but seem to have been staffers from Vistra’s Zurich office; but the shareholding firm has always been Holdentia AG, even though its address has moved around, and is currently in Zug.

Meanwhile, Vistra Trust was first registered in 2004 by the Bell Gully law firm, and began its life as the Chiltern Trust Company (New Zealand) Ltd. The Chiltern Group, based in London, sold its 25 000 shares to Accomplish Ltd in 2006. Accomplish had an Auckland office, but it had foreign companies with the shareholding, first in the British Virgin Islands and then in Jersey. Accomplish Ltd then became Vistra Holding in November 2007, at least, they shared the same Jersey address; and then the shares are owned by Vistra SA from that point, now based in Geneva. Walter Stresemann of the Geneva office became a director, along with David Rudge in London, and Marinus Bouw who is listed with a Belgian address. The administration had been taken over by NZ Securities Ltd, i.e. the Melvilles, and Garth Melville also became a director. Those three were still directors until the most recent annual return in 2015, with Gerard van Spall who is based in the Netherlands Antilles (in the Caribbean), and John Ashwood, who is listed as being in Hong Kong. Ashwood was subsequently replaced Fabrizio Patane, who was the chairman of the Althea firm in Geneva.

That seems reasonably clear, except that the Geneva office of Vistra has begun creating new companies through the Pearse Trust in Wellington, while giving a shareholder address for Vistra Trust being in Tauranga where the Melvilles are based. So Colm Hanley has completed the paper work for Fabrizio Patane to be the shareholder in Strasbourg Ltd; while Walter Stresemann is the shareholder in Algongate Investment Ltd, Tonka Fortune Ltd, and Rousillons Investments Ltd. The interesting thing about this is that, for Rousillions, Stresemann is signatory for: “Vistra Trust Company (New Zealand) Ltd as Trustee of the Chatham Trust.” Let us not forget that these new companies are usually linked to trusts, and that Hanley has perhaps made a mistake by adding Chatham Trust to the paperwork.

Having had a close look at how Vistra are set up in New Zealand, I want to look at a few of Hanley’s links to other Swiss trust firms. The main one is the SMC Group, which appears to have a number of offices in Switzerland, and around the world, though it does not list New Zealand on its website. SMC Trustee Ltd was first on the New Zealand company register in 2007, and was one of the Melvilles many new companies, this time the shareholder being Global Trustees (NZ) Ltd. In 2011 there is a share split, with 24 of the 100 shares being taken up by SMC Trust Office SA, based in Appenzell, Switzerland. But in 2013, the 76 shares being held by Hanley are sold to New Zealand Trust Nominees Ltd, a Wellington company run by Gordon Stewart, who was mentioned in an earlier post. Stewart became a director, along with Max Spiess and Luca Moretti, who remained from 2007. A similar thing happens with a related company – Treasury Control Trustee Ltd – that was created by the Pearse Trust in 2010, and using the Melvilles’ then Auckland address. SMC Partners did however, remain in control of the 100 shares when Gordon Stewart took over Treasury Control in 2013, the remaining director being Augusto Bizzini of Castagnola, Switzerland. Luca Moretti and Max Spiess of SMC Partners AG were also directors in one of Stewart’s companies – Secured Trustee International Ltd – but both have recently been replaced.

While Colm Hanley parted with SMC Partners in 2013, he is still involved with the Colombo Fiduciaria group based in Lugano, Switzerland. SQR Trustees (NZ) Ltd was set up by the Melvilles in 2010 for Diego Colombo, who continues to own the 1000 shares. The other original directors were Manuel Antonio Delgado and Eduardo Robles, both residents of Panama. Subsequent directors include Paul Joseph Watson, an octogenarian from the Isle of Man, who is a regular nominee director in the U.K.; and most recently Paolo Bizzio, a resident of Ajman (United Arab Emirates), who appears to to work for Colombo Fiduciaria. SQR Trustees also owns Sage Investments which was set up by Colm Hanley in 2013, and the 300 shares are apparently split evenly between Diego Colombo, Paul Watson and Colm Hanley; they even convened a teleconference to decide the shareholding, with Hanley in the chair.

Finally, Colm Hanley is the director of Naiman Trust Solutions (New Zealand) Ltd, along with Ivan Nikolai Kaufmann of Zurich, Switzerland. The ultimate holding company for Naiman Trust is recorded as the Naiman Group Ltd of Panama; and, as one might expect, Ivan Kaufmann appears a number of times in the Panama Papers database.

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