NZ shell company linked to alleged $150m fraud

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 08:21 24/05/2012
The West Juno rig
HIGH PRICE?: The West Juno rig appears to have cost a pretty penny.
Head office
NO-ONE AT HOME: Falcona Systems' registered office at 23/17 Georgia Terrace, Albany, Auckland, is an empty townhouse.

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Another New Zealand shell company has been linked to an alleged fraud worth more than US$150m - this time involving Ukrainian state-owned companies.

The company, Falcona Systems Ltd of Albany, Auckland, was struck off the New Zealand Company Register last October but only after it was used to gain $150m in kickbacks for Ukrainian and Latvian officials, according to East European media reports.

The latest allegations involving New Zealand shell companies comes five days after Fairfax Media was told by the Latvia Finance Ministry that New Zealand had been struck off a European Union banking and corporate ''white list'' over our weak money laundering and terrorism financing controls.

Latvian authorities said they moved after revelations Tormex Ltd, of Queen Street, Auckland, allegedly washed US$680m through a Riga bank account - no explanation of where the money came from or went. However,  a multi-national investigation points to the Russian Mafia.

Two years ago another New Zealand shell company, SP Trading Ltd of the same Queen Street address, was found to have chartered a Georgian registered plane to fly embargo-busting arms from North Korea to an unknown Middle Eastern state. They were intercepted in Bangkok.

The shell company creators behind SP and Tormex are not involved in the latest allegations.

New Zealand companies can be created online for just $153.33 and while Commerce Minister Craig Foss has said action is being taken to tighten registrations, nothing has happened. Foss is in Japan and could not be reached for comment.

Ukrainian newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, reported in an English language version by Ukrainian Journal, said the country's state-owned ChornomorNaftoGaz oil company shelled out $400m in April to buy an oil rig from Highway Investment Processing Llp, a UK-registered company.

It said that the same oil rig, named West Juno and produced by Keppel of Singapore, was sold to an undisclosed UK company for $248.5m on April 13, and that the only other company that participated at the tender, Falcona Systems Ltd, allegedly offered the same oil rig at $410m.

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia claimed that as a result of the deal the Ukraine overpaid US$150m for the rig - and it suspects the money has gone in kickbacks.

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Falcona Systems has its registered office at 23/17 Georgia Terrace, Albany, Auckland. Fairfax investigations found an unoccupied townhouse.

Its solitary director is Inta Bilder of Latvia. A search of the Company Register shows 942 results for Bilder as director and shareholder.

Falcona Systems main shareholder is Interhold Ltd, of Level 4, 44 Khyber Pass, Grafton, Auckland. It, in turn, is owned by Genhold Ltd, of the same address, with a Panama-resident director. Genhold is in turn 100 per cent-owned by Trust (NZ) Holdings Ltd of the same address. Its sole director and shareholder refused to comment on the company's ownership.

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia newspaper names an Erick Vanagels as being involved with both Highway and Falcona.

A search for Vanagel's name in the Company Register produces 318 results with both Panama and Latvia addresses.

British based lobby group openDemocracy said Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko boasted in April that the state agency had purchased a modern drilling rig for $400m. But it said its real price may have been $150m less.

The group said its investigations showed that Highway Investment was fictitious.

Diplomatic sources said jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was demanding European anti-corruption institutions, including the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, launch an investigation into Boyko and his Latvian, UK and New Zealand links.

Tymoshenko is in jail after being convicted over alleged corruption in gas deals with Russia.

She has staged a high profile hunger strike over torture allegations.

Last week Latvia's Deputy State Secretary on financial policy issues in the Ministry of Finance, Arina Andreicika, said New Zealand and Russia had been struck of the EU white list.

She said the EU had acted on the ''evaluation of the report on New Zealand laws and regulations of money laundering and terrorist financing prevention in compliance with international requirements and the level of corruption in the Russian Federation''.

Being struck off the white list means that banks and institutions in Latvia and the EU ''will not be entitled any more to make simplified research for banks and financial institutions registered in New Zealand and Russia''.

It also means European institutions can no longer ''accept and acknowledge'' customer identification and analysis'' performed in New Zealand.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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