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Samoa’s ‘Panama Connection’ revealed

Wednesday 6 April 2016 | Published in Regional


SAMOA – An officer at Samoa’s high commission in Australia routinely assisted Mossack Fonseca in creating shell companies, files from the firm reveal.

One of those shell companies later faced sanctions for supplying goods to the Syrian government and military.

The Panamanian law firm assists its clients in setting up offshore shell companies in countries commonly linked to tax avoidance such as the British Virgin Islands and the Seychelles.

A shell company is an entity that is usually created for business transactions but has limited assets and offers low visibility of the activities it undertakes.

The leaked files show that Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office appears to have been using the Samoan high commission in Canberra, about 4500km away, to assist it in forwarding documents for the creation of shell companies to other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

The Samoan high commissioner initially said in a statement she was not aware of any instances where documents had been received from Mossack Fonseca for legalisation, but later clarified and said some documents had been forwarded for processing only to foreign authorities.

One email from Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office, dated April 16, 2013, details the process of sending documents from Samoa to Australia and then to the UAE.

“We had forwarded on 15 March 2013 to the Samoa high commission a Certificate of Good Standing for the above company for authentication by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and then to be forwarded to the UAE embassy for further endorsement,” a Mossack Fonseca employee wrote.

In another email from 2012, Luciano Fonoti, the deputy head of mission at the high commission of Samoa in Australia, responds to a Mossack Fonseca employee: “Have received your letter 13/2/12 for Agro & Oil International for UAE Embassy with the usual prepaid Fed Ex Courier.”

He continued: “Can you plse confirm the account is paid, because the one that was send in Nov 2011 was rejected by local FedEx here and now our office has been asked to pay for it, despite our having to inform the FedEx people here that it is not our document but because we had to fill in the ‘senders’ address of the airway bill hence, the reason for the local Fed Ex agent going after our office.”

Other leaked documents demonstrate a similar process was followed for numerous companies created by Mossack Fonseca, with documents being notarised by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, and the embassy or consulate of another country, before then being couriered onwards from the Samoan high commission.

The documents outline in detail the process for setting up shell companies, and the unusual involvement of the Samoan high commission in Australia.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade frequently provides what are known as “legalisation services” for documents to help them meet foreign governments’ requirements.

One of the companies created in this way was later found to have deliberately engaged in “deceptive measures” by the US government to supply aviation oil to the Syrian regime in 2013 and 2014.

Documents for Pangates International Corporation Limited were sent to the Samoan high commission, which were in turn sent to the UAE embassy and then back to the high commission, with the intention of then sending them on to Mossack Fonseca’s client in Dubai, the papers show.

Other leaked documents name the individuals behind Pangates, with a “consent to act” letter signed by Ahmad Barqawi and a resignation letter signed by Mouhamad Wael Abdulkarim.

In July 2014, Pangates was sanctioned by the US Treasury, which stated: “From at least 2012 to April 2014, Pangates supplied the government of Syria, including SYTROL, with a large amount of specialty petroleum products. Although these products can be used for military or civilian purposes, they have limited civilian application in Syria.”

Both Barqawi and Abdulkarim were subsequently named by the US Treasury in another sanction announcement, which alleged Pangates officials had “engaged in deceptive measures” to supply oil products to the Syrian government.

Despite the sanctions from the US, and the EU taking restrictive measures against Pangates in October 2014, Mossack Fonseca continued issuing certificates for the company – the type of documents used by offshore companies to open new bank accounts and bid for contracts.

In November 2014, Mossack Fonseca Seychelles issued a certificate of good standing for Pangates and a related company, Maxima Middle East Trading Co, both notarised by Seychelles authorities.

It also granted a power of attorney over a third company linked to Pangates called Morgan Additives Manufacturing Co. Both Morgan and Maxima were incorporated in 2012 – the year the US Treasury claims Abdulkarim and Barqawi began supplying the Syrian government.

In a statement the Samoan high commissioner, Hinauri Petana, said: “Please note the Samoa high commission does not provide notarisation and legalisation services for companies incorporated in Samoa as this is only done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Samoa through lawyers that provide notarial services under the relevant laws.”

She said the high commission did not notarise legalise documents, and she was not aware of any legalisation service provided to Pangates or any other company from Mossack Fonseca.

In a subsequent statement she later confirmed a request had been received from the United Arab Emirates for apostille, which is a form of legalisation service.

“I advise that Mr Luciano Fonoti was appointed counsellor to the Samoa high commission and left the high commission at the completion of his term with the high commission in 2013. For the record, the Samoa high commission is required to forward documents for processing only, while notarisation and legalisation of documents are done by our authorities at home.

“On record, a request for apostille from UAE for Pangates was forwarded by Mr Fonoti as the officer at the time. He was not paid a commission or fee, nor was he involved in any way or the high commission in the way your question inferred.

“We continue to do the same thing when authorised by our authorities to forward requests. We are not in any way involved with the work of trustee companies. All documents are duly notarised and authenticated by our authorities.” - Guardian