South Pacific a money laundering paradise

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2012

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Deregistered shell companies drift across the South Pacific without oversight, but crucial to corruption and money laundering.

Authorities in Europe are looking for nearly $700 million stashed in shell companies once registered in New Zealand and Vanuatu, and the $600,000 armoured car bought by a London-based Nigerian politician using a shell company operating out of Niue.

The latest case involves one time Ireland rich-lister Sean Quinn. After Ireland's financial meltdown, he found himself owing billions to the former Anglo Irish Bank.

But the Irish media alleges he managed to put millions beyond its reach, and that private investigators have trawled company registers in Australia and New Zealand looking at links with Vanuatu.

Much of the missing money came out of the Ukraine and Russia, where dozens of once New Zealand-registered shell companies operate despite being struck off by the Companies Office.

The way the companies lingered on was a factor in New Zealand being struck off a European Union banking “white list” of trusted jurisdictions, and the London based non-profit Global Witness, says our shells are “a critical link in the corruption supply chain”.

Another entity emerged after the conviction this year of former governor of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta State, James Ibori. Sentenced to 13 years' jail for stealing more than $310m from the Government, mansions in England and South Africa were seized, along with a fleet of armoured Range Rovers and Bentleys.

One of the problems in searching the Pacific was that after pressure from New Zealand, Niue closed its register in 2006 and gave the rights to control a tax haven there for 20 years to Mossack Fonseca and Co of Panama City.

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- Sunday Star Times

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