The Spanish connection to the South Pacific

This is a quick look at how some prominent Spanish citizens, and their families, have been using Mossack Fonseca for trusts and shell companies in the South Pacific. There is a now familiar New Zealand link, via the Orion Trust run out of Auckland. I want to move to the wider Asia Pacific and in later posts will look back at the documents leaked from Portcullis Trustnet, and its operations in Malaysia and Samoa. But first I will summarise the use of companies in Niue and Samoa by the Pretus law firm in Spain, as reported on-line in Spanish, and some lengthy legal action that preceded the Panama Papers release.

In June 2015 there werereports about Eugenio Mora, the president of Burberry in Spain being convicted for tax evasion, avoiding prison time by paying millions in Euros to the Spanish tax authorities. The charges dated back to the early 2000s in some cases, in terms of tax fraud, and also charges were laid against his former wife, Carmen Uriach, when both had become ‘non-domiciled’ status residents in London. But the reports also mentioned tax havens and “opaque structures” set up by the Pretus law firm, and Gabriel Pretus Labayen in particular. A report in El Confidencial goes into more detail about the structure that was created, at least, the organisations were involved in providing nominee shareholders: Dixcart Management Madeira; Madeira Corporate Services; Mossack Fonseca; Intrust Ltd; International Agencies & Management; CAC Management (Canada); and the Trustees Overseas Company in Panama. The firm ‘Befete G. Pretus’ comes up with 98 entities in the ICIJ database, and various branches of the other firms also come up to a lesser extent.

Now a quick look at the individuals involved with Mora and Uriach. Eugenio Mora Olivello comes up once, with two entities created by the Pretus firm in Samoa, circa 2006-7. Carmen Uriach Rogent appears in three separate entries, and each with a Samoan company set up in the same period by Pretus, the only difference being that her companies are listed as ‘active’ rather than being in default. Gabriel Ignacio Pretus Labayen appears but once with a Samoan company, as does Francisco Alejandro Pretus Labayen. But Gabriel Jose Petrus Becerra has seven entries, all listing him as linked to the United Kingdom. Of these entries, four are linked to individual Samoan companies, not all listed as active; two entries refer to a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called Starp Finance; and the final one refers to Panamanian companies called Saranna Development S.A. and Stanstead Management S.A. And unlike the other entries these two Panamanian companies link to other ‘officers’, one being Starp Finance, and the other being the Orion Trust in New Zealand. So Saranna is linked to Orion “as Trustee of the Humanitarian Intervention Relief and Research Trust”; while the officers for Stanstead include the Orion Trust as Trustee of the Ama Trust, and another Panamanian company called Stemforth Estates Inc. The Orion Trust is based at Bentley’s Accountants of Auckland, New Zealand (see previous post ‘Stichting or Stak’).

Going back to Eugenio Mora and Burberry Spain, they are also linked to companies owned by Demetrio Carceller Coll, another client of the Pretus firm, along with his son. Demetrio Carceller is a former associate of the Spanish dictator General Franco, and he was also being accused of tax evasion and money laundering, although his age made a long trial problematic. There have been articles in El Confidencial since the Panama Papers have been released that provide the exact detail of the companies set up by Pretus for him, and his four children. In the database there are only three entries for Demetrio Carceller Coll, and the active one seems to be Siwenna Holdings Ltd, a Samoan company set up by Mossack Fonseca, as El Confidencial show with the documents in the article. But the writer, Ruth Ugalde, also lists the other companies that have been set up in Samoa, without naming the family member in the databse. These include Vance Corporation (for son Demetrio); Gloucester Inc. (for son Jose); Nuka B.V. (for daughter Carmen); and Orsingen GMBH (for daughter Maria). Some of these firms started off as Niue companies, before transfer to Samoa, and all are apparently linked to Gabriel Jose Petrus Becerra. Apparently these companies were also involved with the others that Petrus Becerra had set up for Carmen Uriach, especially Tictom Corp; although it seems that Petrus Becerra had been the one to escape the charges that had been laid against the rest of the Petrus firm in the previous year (before the Panama Papers were released).

One of the reasons for doing this particular post, without referring extensively to New Zealand registered companies, is to indicate how other countries in the Pacific are part of the offshore world. The tax haven in Niue may have been curtailed, but questions remain about why a blind eye is turned to the burgeoning tax haven in Samoa. In future posts I will look further at the Asia Pacific region, and the role of the offshore industry for wealthy family firms particularly in Indonesia. This will be based on the leak of the documents from Portcullis Trustnet that preceded the Panama Papers, and even though the links in the earlier part of the database are not as detailed, there will still be prominent family names as beneficiaries.


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