Portcullis, Trustnet, and Safeco Finance: Hong Kong, BVI, and Samoa

Portcullis Trustnet is a hybrid in the offshore world. Trustnet is an attenuated trust firm that went through a number of incarnations, beginning in the Cook Islands in the 1980s. It started off in the stable of a notorious New Zealand firm, Euronational, but it remained in the control of New Zealand’s richest man, the late John Spencer, while the more high profile European Pacific was subject to scrutiny. On the other hand the Portcullis firm is the vehicle of Kok Kong Chong, known as David Chong, and is based in Hong Kong, but expanded into Asia, including Malaysia. I will follow up on the combination in a future post, but want to make the point here that just because it is all ‘offshore’, doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing, or that there weren’t cultural clashes and internal legal issues.

The leak of documents from David Chong’s Portcullis Trustnet, which ended up with the ICIJ, were aired in 2013. The Offshore Leaks database that was constructed has not received the kind of attention that the Panama Papers have, and therefore the Asian Pacific region has not had the journalistic scrutiny that Latin America has had. It was also not made clear that Portcullis Trustnet actually operated from New Zealand, or at least has a presence. It is also somewhat surprising that the key figures are are openly involved. There was a brief appearance of Portcullis Trustnet (New Zealand) Ltd in 2005, but it had been removed by 2009. The name was revived by Geoffrey Barry, a New Zealander based in Hong Kong, in 2011, with David Chong and Kim Boo also being directors, and residents of Singapore. By November 2015 the name had been shortened to Portcullis Ltd, and the new directors are Ronnie Antoinette Melanie Summers and Penny Rosa Purcell. Both of these women give Auckland addresses, but have been Portcullis staffers in the Cook Islands and Hong Kong. They are also directors of Portcullis Trust (New Zealand) Ltd, which was set up in 2012.

Both of these New Zealand companies are owned by Portcullis International Holdings Ltd, based in the British Virgin Islands, but the ultimate holding company is called First Finance Holdings Ltd (BVI). Not surprisingly all of these Portcullis people appear in the ICIJ database: Ms Summers from Hong Kong, comes up with 41 entities, being companies registered in the Cook Islands, Samoa, and BVI; Ms Purcell, also of Hong Kong, has three separate entries, but as director in only two BVI companies, and linked to the admin firms that Portcullis Trustnet created in Samoa as a ‘secretary’, called Sectra and Dectra Ltd. If these links don’t expose anything in particular, there is more to the Samoa operation.

In June 2013 the Fairfax media in New Zealand reported, on the Stuff website, a story about a New Zealand shell company involved in a scam in Thailand, called Capital Consultants Management (CCM). CCM was set up in 2010, by the Buddle Finlay law firm, and was struck off in 2013; it had also owned another New Zealand company, Forest City Basin Resources Ltd, but the shareholder of both was listed as Global Target Investment Group Ltd (BVI). The journalist, Matt Nippert, claimed that an earlier shareholding company, Bright Light Holdings Ltd, was also a BVI company, and that the ICIJ database confirmed this. In fact, the companies register shows that Bright Light Holdings Ltd was registered in Samoa, by Portcullis Trustnet’s office in Apia; and the ICIJ database shows that Brave Light Holdings had Sectra as secretary, Gunnar Helgason of Hong Kong, as an intermediary, and William Elik of Hong Kong, as a director. Nippert’s story was basically that Elik was a scam artist, who had already used a CCM firm in Malaysia, it had been exposed by Australian authorities, and he’d earlier been banned from share trading in his hometown of Ontario, Canada. The company documentation for CCM and Forest City list a number of directors: Donald Payne of Ontario; Terrence Elik of Ontario; Angus Stuart of Hong Kong; Loo Fong Chiu of Thailand; Janis Rozenblats of Latvia; and Rodolfo Salgado of Bangkok, Thailand. Nippert claimed that William Elik and Rozenblats were arrested in Bangkok, with their Canadian associate, Gunnar Helgason; and that Salgado was apparently ‘on the run’.

Certainly, William Douglas Elik of Thailand appears in the ICIJ database, linked with a CCM in the British Virgin Islands, as well as a few other companies, including Quarry Tech Ltd (BVI), and Bright Light Holdings Ltd (Samoa). Gunnar Helgason appears three times in the database, and is basically the intermediary for 9 entities, in association with Portcullis Trustnet, including Safeco Finance Ltd (BVI). Rodolfo Andres Salgado appears twice in the database: once in the Panama Papers linked with an entity called Myriad Enterprises Ltd (Samoa) set up in 2005, and which had defaulted; and once in association with Portcullis Trustnet, linked to Anxin Investments Ltd (BVI), set up in 2008 but also in default. The shareholders for Anxin Investments include Salgado and Safeco Finance Ltd (BVI). For Myriad Enterprises Ltd the directors were Salgado, and Jamie Thomas Trow of Thailand.

Jamie Thomas Trow also appears in the Offshore Leaks database with a Hong Kong address, as shareholder of an entity called Jin Xia Group Ltd (BVI). Although this was associated with Portcullis Trustnet in the British Virgin Islands, Gunnar Helgason of Hong Kong is listed as an intermediary. Jin Xia Group Ltd had been set up in 2007 and is still listed as active, but Jamie Thomas Trow was found dead in a Phuket hotel room in June 2010. According to the Phuket Gazette, Mr Trow had been staying in the hotel in Patong for a month, and had plenty of cash (of various currencies) in his room, four Rolex watches, and “an electroshock self-protection device”. There was obviously speculation about his death on their website, but no signs of foul play in the room.

 

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