The Swiss Offshore ‘Fleet’ in New Zealand

So this is yet another look at the lawyers from Swiss firms that have a presence in New Zealand companies, and may also appear in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database. And an interesting aspect of this will be the connection with the Rothschild family, and their trusts in the South Pacific . But the centre of the analysis is a particular page on the website Who’s Who Legal, and their article “Switzerland: Private Client Analysis 2016”. In this article are listed the 56 leading lights in ‘private client’ law, and a top six that includes Justine Markowitz (usually Markovitz) of Withers LLP (Geneva), who is described as a ‘superstar’ in the offshore tax world.

On the New Zealand companies register we find a Justine Markovitz Bordenave of Troinex with 10 directorships, all dating from 2014. All of these companies are administered by the Cone Marshall firm in Auckland, and two are owned by one of their vehicles, Global Fiduciary (NZ) Ltd. These include Hathor Investments Ltd, and Juno Overseas Ltd, which also has another foreign director, Heimo Quaderer of Liechtenstein, who preceded Justine Markovitz by a couple of weeks. But there were also 8 other companies that Markovitz was also a director from November 2014 to December 2015, and the last one she relinquished her directorship was for Canvy PT Ltd. All of the other 7 companies had ‘PT’ in the title, and were owned by Rothschild Trust (Schweiz) AG, out of Zurich. With the departure of Markovitz all these PT companies remain under the direction of Geoffrey Cone and Claire Cooke. Rothschild Trust (Schweiz) appears in the ICIJ database for the Panama Papers, as well as for its association with Portcullis Trustnet. Indeed, the ICIJ fully covered the Swiss lawyers who assisted the Baron Elie de Rothschild set up a myriad of trusts in the Cook Islands in the 1990s, with the help of John Spencer’s Trustnet (or its predecessor).

The lawyers referred to in a number of ICIJ articles were in fact from the Lenz Staehelin firm, especially Peter Hafter. Now, going back to the Who’s Who Legal 2016 article, we find favourable mentions and profiles of three current Lenz Staehelin partners: Mark John Barmes, Jean-Blaise Eckert, and Lucien Masmejan. Barmes, an Australian, appears on the New Zealand company register from 1st January 2013 when he became the director of Canford Ltd. This company dated back to 2001 and the shareholding was held by a Fondation Candara of Panama. Though administered by the Auckland firm Patterson Hopkins it never had a local resident director before being de-listed in 2015. But prior to this Barmes had been a director of Fleet Overseas (NZ) Ltd, which has had a procession of Lenz Staehelin partners as directors, including Jean-Blaise Eckert until late 2015, and Lucien Masmejan from November 2015. Fleet Overseas Ltd is also administered by the Patterson Hopkins firm, with William Patterson eventually becoming a director, but the longest serving is Martin Nicholas Ozard of Guernsey. Ozard is linked to the Old Manor Trustees Ltd of Guernsey that controls the shareholding of Fleet Overseas, and to L & S Services LP that is another related party, along with the Chater Holding Trust, according to its 2014 financial statements. Ozard appears once in the ICIJ database, as a director of Rougeterre Holdings, a BVI registered company set up by Portcullis Trustnet. But Lenz & Staehelin appear a number of times, as an intermediary with Trustnet in the Cook Islands, and setting up 45 trusts; and three times in the Panama Papers, although the Geneva office is only linked to one entity in Panama which dates back to 1979. Jean-Blaise Eckert is listed as a shareholder in Pariden International Inc., a BVI registered entity incorporated in 1999.

Finally, Who’s Who Legal mention Louis Boissier of Borel & Barbey as having an “enviable roster of clients”. Boissier has been the director of the Pinetree Trust Company Ltd in New Zealand since 2003, and more recently the South Pacific Auckland Trust Company Ltd. The Pinetree Trust is owned by his Borel & Barbey colleague Olivier Dunant. Dunant had a number of other trust companies administered by Patterson & Hopkins in the mid 2000s, but all were liquidated after ‘non-activity’ declarations. Meanwhile, South Pacific Auckland Trust is owned by the North Atlantic Trust Company of Gibraltar, as detailed in a previous post [North Atlantic to South Pacific via Panama]. Louis Boissier does not appear in the ICIJ database, but Dunant appears 47 times, mostly linked to the North Atlantic Trust Company in Switzerland or Gibraltar. Dunant’s CV is extensive, and besides being a trustee for the offshore rich, he has apparently been the honorary consul for Norway in Geneva since 1986, as well as having had many positions for charitable and philanthropic organisations.

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