The Malta Independent 7 June 2023, Wednesday
View E-Paper

175,000 companies registered in the Bahamas named in new ICIJ offshore leak

Thursday, 22 September 2016, 08:36 Last update: about 8 years ago

New revelations published by International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and news organizations from Europe, South America, Asia and Africa reveal fresh information about offshore companies in the Bahamas.

The leaked Bahamian files reveal details of the offshore activities of prime ministers, ministers, princes and convicted felons.

Alongside detailed reporting, ICIJ is making details from the Bahamas corporate registry available to the public. This creates, for the first time, a free, online and publicly-searchable database of offshore companies set up in the island nation that has sometimes been called “The Switzerland of the West.”

Among those named in the new leak is former EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes who, as the EU’s corporate enforcer, told big corporations they could not “run away from the EU’s rules.”

The newly leaked documents show that Ms Kroes was listed as a director of an offshore company in the Bahamas from 2000 to 2009. The former EU commissioner never disclosed this information. EU rules state that commissioners must declare all their economic interests in the previous 10 years.

Former Colombian energy minister Carlos Caballero Argáez is also named in the files, with his name appearing as president and secretary of one Bahamian company between 1997 and 2008, and director of another between 1990 and 2015.

Bahamian companies, trusts and bank accounts have appeared in numerous cases involving the seizure of dictators’ and politicians’ money. The son of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet used a Bahamian company, Meritor Investments Limited, to move $1.3 million to his father. Pinochet’s son, Marco Antonio, dismissed the allegations as “lies” and declared no wrongdoing through the Bahamas. Pinochet himself owned another Bahamian company, Ashburton Company Limited,  set up in 1996. Abba Abacha, the son of former Nigerian president, Sani Abacha, had $350 million frozen in Luxembourg and the Bahamas as part of a global asset hunt into the estimated $3 billion stripped from Nigeria during his father’s five-year rule.

Unlike the Panama Papers, 11.5 million often-detailed emails, contracts, audio recordings and other documents from one law firm, the information listed in the new Bahamian documents is plainer — if still fundamental — in content. The new data does not make it clear, for example, whether directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.

When paired with the Panama Papers, the Bahamas data provide fresh insights into the offshore dealings of politicians, criminals and executives as well as the bankers and lawyers who help move money.

The new leaked documents include the names of 539 registered agents— corporate middlemen who serve as intermediaries between Bahamian authorities and customers who wish to create an offshore company. Among them is Mossack Fonseca, the law firm whose leaked files formed the basis of the Panama Papers. The firm set up 15,915 entities in the Bahamas, making it Mossack Fonseca’s third busiest jurisdiction. At one point, Bahamian companies were among Mossack Fonseca’s best-sellers.

The Panama Papers show how Mossack Fonseca helped clients use Bahamian secrecy to keep their name out of public filings and how the law firm undermined the global push towards tax transparency.

Beyond Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers, the leaked Bahamian files reveal details of the offshore activities of prime ministers, cabinet ministers, princes and convicted felons. It is generally not illegal to own or direct an offshore company, and there are legitimate business reasons in many cases for setting up an offshore structure. But transparency experts say it’s important that public officials disclose their connections to offshore entities.

The Malta Independent is a media partner of the ICIJ.

  • don't miss