By Richard Smith
I speculated (I thought, boldly) about a possible link between bankrupt Irish ex-billionaire Sean Quinn’s asset hiding activities and the Taylor family’s really-pushing-the-envelope company registration businesses (GT Group and successors) here.
Here are some big fat clues that my guess was right, from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), who are collaborating with The Guardian and the BBC in an investigative series on offshore companies, and here provide a list of billionaires and some of their companies and doings. Umm, let’s include the ICIJ’s cautious disclaimer, and part of their list, relating to a couple of likely lads: Sean Quinn and a Russian oligarch, Vladimir Antonov:
These ownership details are being published in the interests of transparency. It is not suggested that the setting-up of such offshore companies was in itself illegal.
• [Companies] Soverint Holdings; Lyndhurst Development
• The bankrupt Irishman is alleged to use offshore entities to hide Russian activities and profits. The Quinn family, once lionised as “Ireland’s richest,” are being pursued after the collapse of the Allied Irish Bank [RS here: the ICIJ means Anglo-Irish Bank], for alleged debts to the bank of more than £2bn. This follows a buying spree of Russian property, commenced in 2007, including shopping malls in Moscow and Kiev bought via offshore companies. Since Quinn’s bankruptcy, Irish courts have declared that assets have been shuffled away into other offshore companies in a dishonest “charade.” As a result, Quinn is currently serving a 9-week prison sentences imposed by a Dublin court for contempt.
• Company formation: Unitrust, London and Canada
• Quinn denies any wrongdoing
• Danforth Ventures Inc; Paterson Association Inc; Griffon Properties [Jersey]; . . . and others
• This major Russian oligarch and one-time Portsmouth FC owner is fighting extradition from London, following collapse of a Lithuanian bank and assassination attempts. The Danforth entity was used to buy a superyacht in 2007 in Antibes in the south of France. The 37-year-old Antonov also allegedly used offshore entities to hide property holdings. He moved to Notting Hill in west London after his father narrowly survived an assassination attempt in Moscow by Chechen hitmen. Antonov is now accused of looting the assets of the Snoras bank in Lithuania, which is trying to have him extradited on a European arrest warrant. Assets worth €492m (£397m) have been frozen. As director, he used his business associate Vladimir Oplanchuk, then nominee director Edward Petre-Mears in Nevis.
• Company formation: Unitrust, London and Canada
• Antonov’s lawyers say the allegations are politically motivated, following articles criticizing the government published by an Antonov media company.
The words “Unitrust” and “Edward Petre-Mears” naturally leap out at any international company register enthusiast (now, there’s a specialized enthusiasm). Edward Petre-Mears featured in our recent post about the GT Group affiliations of a small group of nominee directors. Unitrust formed companies used by both Quinn and Antonov. So now we have the beginnings of a Sean Quinn-Unitrust-Petre-Mears-GT Group connection, in the UK.
The Opencorporates database has a few details of the London Unitrust here; we see from the ICIJ piece that it operates as a company incorporator. For some reason this particular UK company incorporator has directors with very Russian names; that’s striking. One wonders how they acquired their expertise in UK company incorporation.
On the same Opencorporates page, on the right, one notices that there’s a New Zealand company with the same name, and lo, it too is a company incorporator. Its registered address is 334 Te Atatu Road, Te Atatu South, Auckland.
The New Zealand Unitrust’s founder director is none other than Edward Petre-Mears’s wife, Sarah Louise Petre-Mears. She too features in NC’s post yesterday highlighting a small group of nominee directors connected with the GT Group. The Guardian’s investigated Sarah’s other 1200 nominee directorships.
So the Unitrust name, and the Petre-Mears name, both take us to 334 Te Atatu Road, Auckland, and thus, via the Petre-Mears’ long and distinguished collaboration with the Taylor family, to GT Group.
The globe-spanning coincidence of company names and maverick company registration activities are already too much to overlook, but there’s more. We noticed that the UK’s Unitrust has directors with Russian names. Does that pattern recur in New Zealand?
Well, NZ’s Unitrust shares its address, 334 Te Atatu Road, with another company incorporator, Bizoffice Company Formations Limited, which we also linked with GT Group. And in turn, Bizoffice Company Formations has a shareholder, Bizoffice Limited, that has Russian-looking names on its directors’ roster; they look just as inconcongrous in New Zealand as they do in the UK.
That’s comforting incongruity, for the sleuth. Now, the styles of the Bizoffices and Unitrusts coincide, on opposite sides of the globe, right down to very specific and very offbeat preferences on director nationality. Combined with the fondness for the Petre-Mears family, I reckon that’s far too many coincidences. It’s a signature, and, looking at the NZ end of the empire, it appears to be a GT Group signature.
So…that post of mine, still a guess, is now beginning to look much less wild. But I don’t think I’ll patting myself wholeheartedly on the back for that intuitive leap, if it gets some really rock-hard confirmation in due course. For in fact the new evidence turned up by the Guardian/ICIJ investigations makes my post look more like a remarkably unpersuasive statement of the bleeding obvious. With, for instance, 28 nominee directors running 21,500 offshore companies, the asset hiding business is a small world indeed. It would be much more surprising if Sean Quinn was not using GT Group services.
The GT Group footprint, meanwhile, just gets ever more impressive.