Among the close network of firms which systemically laundered money for global clients of Mossack Fonseca is a Bratislava based LtD company, according to the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism.
The revelations stem from the 2.6 terra-Byte of documents about clients of the Panama company Mossack Fonseca published on April 3 by journalists from several countries.
“According to the scrutinised documents, Slovak company Latem Trading offered these special, legalisation services to European clients,” the centre claims. It failed to explain, so far, how specifically this legalisation should have been going on. The case is being investigated by both police and financial administration.
The Latem Trading company has had, according to accounting statements insignificant revenues since 2009; but last year it made €26,000.
“The company is dead, last year it had some commission from the Netherlands,” the person who put together accounting statements told the Sme daily. The newspaper did not publish her name, as she is accountant for several companies and so far, no information published point to her actively participating in legalising the money, as described in the Panama Papers. She said she has known nothing about the transactions.
Latem Trading could have laundered the money for example also though a parallel accounting and fictitious deals with other companies involved in the Panama network.
The owner of the firm is a Dutch citizen, aged 53, Gustaaf David Poelen, who owns it through his Dutch firm Poelen Holding. He did not answer initial questions from Sme. In a statement for the news website Atkuality.sk, he denied money laundering. He admitted that Mossack Fonseca is his “former business partner”.
Residence under the Castle
Latem Trading resides in Šulekova Street, close to the Bratislava Castle. It is based in an apartment house in which former justice minister Tomáš Borec also owns a flat; as well as co-owner of one of biggest law firms, Jaroslav Ružička and the former CEO of Tatra-banka, Igor Vida.
Poelen bought a flat in Bratislava in 2006, together with his wife Joanette, probably paying in cash. Only two years later, he offered it as collateral for Privat-banka which specialises in private banking. This means that Poelen took a loan from Privat-banka and he secured its repayment with this flat. “He comes here once in a while, two times a year, he comes with his family, maybe for holiday,” the administrator of the house said about Poelen.
Were banks also involved?
Latem Trading might have systemically laundered the money also thanks to the indifference of banks, Pavla Holcová of the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism said. “They cooperated with banks in a way unseen around the world,” she told the Denník N daily in an interview. “Banks didn’t give a damn about who the real owner was, they didn’t ask.”
The rules of fight against money laundering require banks to have information on who are real owners of companies, not just straw men. They face fine or even cancelling of their bank license if they violate this rule. When a company cannot credibly explain its owners, bank is obliged to refuse a loan or accepting its money.
Part of the Panama Papers is also a list of cooperating banks, which includes the Czech E-banka that allowed people between 2000 and 2006 to open an anonymous account. At the time, an entrepreneur did not have to file documents proving owners at all.
The list of collaborating banks includes does not single out any Slovak banks, according to information available so far, but there are also traditional big banks like Credit Suisse, UBS, Société Générale or Austrian Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI) which owns Tatra banka in Slovakia, as well as the internet bank Zuno.
Investigations into dubious transfers began already in several of the countries involved. The Austrian office for overseeing financial market has announced that it started investigating the RBI group.
The Panama Papers scandal got also the Slovak National Criminal Agency (NAKA) interested: it analyses the information published by media. The financial administration checks the case, too. “We started checking on the situation,” FA spokeswoman Patrícia Macíková said for Sme.
Neither Latem Trading, nor Gustaaf D. Poelen are on the list of suspicious people and companies, the so-called “white horses’” or straw men list which leaked from tax administration back in 2013. Then, Poelen had been doing business in Slovakia for more than five years, and the firm had already been included in the Panama scheme, according to the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism.
Details from Panama Papers about Slovaks have not been published yet. An anonymous person handed over 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca office to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung which analysed them in cooperation with reporters of the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism (ICIJ). None of them has published unprocessed data so far.
The website WikiLeaks.org has started publishing then gradually. According to summary statistics, one company, eight real owners and 109 “shareholders”, probably white horses, are connected with Slovakia.
"Straw men" enterprising in Slovakia
In the Panama Papers case, the name of Jana Lütken is also mentioned as a white horse, according to the Czech Centre for Investigative Journalism. She was the legal representative of a company involved in emission-quotas scandal of the first government of Robert Fico – Interblue Group; one of the biggest scandals which goes back to 2008.
However, the name of another Slovak, Zuzana Herichová, is mention in Panama Papers, too. She was mentioned in connection with Interblue Group; but also with the toll company Ibertax. In the same garage as Interblue Group, also the Marrat Electronics resides, for example. Its legal representative was British Brenda Patricia Cocksedge with permanent residence in Dubai, who is closely connected with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. According to the Czech Trade Register, she was legal representative in two companies in 2009; in both, also Herichová was involved: e.g. the Nordic Victory company which was close to lawyers of Jana Lütken.
Slovak connection abroad?
Also the names of white horses collaborating with Mossack Fonseca in the Czech Republic and Hungary can be important for Slovakia, as they can be related to Slovak cases too, according to experts.The Centre pointed to Czech billionaires who allegedly used the services of the Panama-based law agency. For example Daniel Křetínský, who has a big impact on the Slovak energy industry and owns a company in British Virgin Islands. He admitted the ownership of the company, explained that he owns a catamaran in the Caribbean through it. Such an ownership is common among millionaires, as it is advantageous to have yachts sailing mostly in international waters in countries with developed maritime law. The richest Czech, Petr Kellner, who owns the rights of O2 mobile operator in Slovakia, explained that firms in the Virgin Islands which he owns there with his wife, are remnants of the era when they used to live on the islands.
6. Apr 2016 at 18:10 | Adam Valček, Zuzana Žigová