Panamanian nominee directors: Spoiled for choice?

In this post I will have a closer look at the Panamanian nominee directors that pop up with recently formed New Zealand companies, mainly based on the choices of Martin Fine and Map & Associates in Hamilton. In the previous post I highlighted the other Panamanian law firms that have links with Martin Fine, including Morgan & Morgan, and shortly will refer specifically to Arias & Arias. But first, a quick look at a couple of companies created by Cone Marshall in 2012: Turnberry Capital Ltd and Sidney Ventures Ltd. The latter has a Panamanian resident shareholder, Jorge Fernandez, and one familiar name as a director linked with Morgan & Morgan, Luis Davis. The other Panamanian director is Adelina Mercedes de Estribi, who appears only once in the New Zealand register, but apparently has over 27 000 directorships worldwide under variations on her name. Meanwhile, Turnberry Capital (another familiar name for overseas companies) has a shareholder Gionela Gabriela Chen Walters, again linked to Morgan & Morgan of Panama, who is also a director of Global Market Consulting Ltd, one of the companies owned by Map & Associates Nominees Co.

Map & Associates have been linked with Panamanian law firms for over a decade, including Arias & Arias, now known as Arias & Munoz after expanding across Central America. We can see the substance of the financial connection dating back to 2006, from an examination of a transaction in a legal case Map & Associates v Westpac Banking Corporation CIV2008-404-1373, and in particular Westpac’s appeal in 2010. The case is interesting in a number of respects, essentially because the Westpac bank lost the appeal, when it had considered that the protracted transaction, involving the sale of shares $US45M in a small Bolivian Bank (known as Prodem) in 2006, was dubious in terms of potential money laundering. Westpac had eventually declined to follow Map & Associates request for a transfer from its ‘escrow’ account in 2008, due to concerns about the beneficiaries of the funds under International guidelines. But the deal had been set up by a Mr Lara, who apparently worked for Arias & Arias Consultores, but was also a director of A & L Management Inc, which acted as a consultant to Prodem, and had arranged the sale to a Venezuelan bank in the first instance.

In assisting the mysterious Mr Lara, who no longer seems to be associated with Arias & Munoz (based on their website), Martin Fine might seem to have been too accommodating. But he certainly got away with it, and has continued to use the same Arias nominee directors over time such as Vineyka Meneses, including for Select Acquisitions Corp Ltd and the International Ventures Equities Corp Ltd. Both of these companies had two other well known female Panamanian directors when set up in 2006: Araceli Sossa de Ayarza, and Ana Cubilla de Romero. Araceli Sosa (a variation on her surname she has often used) de Ayarza was also the original director of Byford Commercial Ltd and Turquoise International Ltd. The link to Arias seems clear through the presence of director Carmen Javiera Arias Iriarte.

By using the smaller Panamanian law firms Map & Associates appears to have steered clear of some potential controversy around Mossack Fonseca. But Fine actually set up the Orion Trust (New Zealand) Ltd that became the main vehicle for Mossack Fonseca, after it was assumed by Bentleys in 2011. Giselle Ocampo Fonseca remains a director of Orion Trust, and was also the original director of Legacy Trust International Ltd along with Martin Fine. The current Panamanian-based directors of Legacy Trust are Leslie Javier Kerr Shultz and Alex Alexander King, who would appear to be linked to a firm called Owens & Watson. The principal, Ramses Owens, was actually a partner in Mossack Fonseca, and of course appears in the Panama Papers database. Owens had been extolling the virtues of Mossack Fonseca and Panama for a long time, as often quoted from a story “Panama’s the place to be” from Isle of Man Today in November 2001. He described Panama as one of the world’s best kept secrets at the time, and also extolled the virtues of the Panamanian ‘private foundation’ as a viable alternative to trusts. There are now more Panamanian firm websites that expand on the use of private foundations, such as Sovereign Wealth Management.

Interestingly, Martin Fine set up three companies in early 2015 that appear to be owned by a private foundation, the Representative Investments Foundation. These include West Shares Investment Ltd, Commodities Investments (NZ) Ltd, and New Services & Investments Ltd. All have a Panamanian director, Rolando Castillo Mendoza, as well as Fine as a director. It would, of course, be interesting to know who the Representative Investments Foundation actually represent.

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