The Cook Islands made an appearance in the Pandora Papers – the leaked cache of 11.9 million financial records – which includes a high-profile Israeli businessman who allegedly tried to hide over US$1 billion in a trust company here.
The Pandora Papers is the name given to the confidential information unlocked from 14 offshore financial service providers – including one that operates here – that set up and manage shell companies and trusts in tax havens around the world.
The information was found by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that was shared with 150 media partners.
According to The Times of Israel, Beny Steinmetz, an Israeli mining magnate “tried to squirrel away US$1 billion in Cook Islands”.
Also revealed in the Papers, “politically connected” Sri Lankan, Thirukumar Nadesan, who is married to a former member of Sri Lanka’s parliament, used the Cook Islands for a trust.
According to an ICIJ article, Asiaciti Trust which is among the 14 offshore financial service providers, set up a trust for Nadesan in New Zealand and moved it to the Cook Islands in 2012.
The article said the Cook Islands is a jurisdiction that U.S law enforcement agencies consider “vulnerable” to money laundering, with laws that protect trust beneficiaries from court judgments.
Asiaciti Trust, also operates out of New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Nevi, Panama and Samoa.
Cook Islands News approached the branch based in Avarua for comments on the Pandora Papers. Asiaciti Trust Cook Islands’ managing director Tine Ponia said she could not comment on the leak and directed the newspaper to the company’s media response.
The response from Asiaciti Trust said, “the ICIJ and its partners have published a series of coordinated stories that seek to negatively characterise our industry, company and clients. These articles are based on incomplete and sometimes erroneous information, including some confidential information that was illegally obtained from Asiaciti Trust as part of a global attack on industry service providers.”
“Asiaciti Trust provides fiduciary services to clients around the world. Our work is subject to stringent law and regulation by the relevant authorities in each jurisdiction in which we operate. We are committed to the highest business standards, including ensuring that our operations fully comply with all laws and regulations.
“We maintain a strong compliance program and each of our offices have passed third party audits for Anti-Money Laundering & Counter-Financing of Terrorism practices in recent years, which reflects our intense focus on this area.”
The response said media coverage by the ICIJ was largely based on illegally obtained information that contains inaccuracies.
“In many cases the stories published do not represent all the facts or context of a situation. This has led to grossly misleading inferences and conclusions about Asiaciti Trust,” the response said.
It said the Trust was bound by confidentiality laws that restrict the company from commenting on specific matters.
Cook Islands News also reached out to Marie Francis, chief executive officer of Cook Islands Financial Services Development Authority for comment.
But Francis asked for more details and did not respond by the time this story went to print.
The Cook Islands Financial Services Development Authority provides companies with offshore banking and asset protection services.
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS