Unaoil: New Zealand shell company involved in multimillion-dollar bribery operation

Shortly before news about the Panama Papers broke, a leak of Unaoil's email cache revealed "that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia's Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai." (Fairfax Media)

Unaoil bribery scandal: New Zealand shell company linked to Unaoil scandal. The leaked evidence of its own internal email cache demonstrated that the multimillion-dollar fees Unaoil takes from its clients were funnelled into an industrial scale bribery operation which further entrenches corruption among the powerful few.

The ownership wiring diagram appears to show Unaoil is owned by UNA Energy Group Holding of Singapore, and that in turn is owned by UnaEnergy Trustees based in Auckland.

But the Auckland company is just a link in the chain, and it is owned in turn by Fleetwood Trustees, based in the tax haven of St Kitts and Nevis.

The Auckland company's only New Zealand-based director is Richard Gordon Wilson, who is a foreign trusts expert from Jackson Russell Lawyers, a Shortland Street law firm.

Wilson said: "UnaEnergy Trustees Limited is a trustee of a trust established for UNA Energy, and holds the shares in a holding company based in Singapore.

"We just act on instructions from an outfit in Monaco which runs family offices for wealthy clients." Source: stuff.co.nz

This case demonstrates the problem with the New Zealand system — it is impossible to identify the beneficial owner of the New Zealand company whose ownership is off shore without New Zealand tax obligations. There is no register of beneficial owners of companies, there is no requirement on companies themselves to know their beneficial owners, and lawyers are outside of the anti-money laundering laws so no due diligence was required when the company was established. This case does not necessarily mean that the lawyers or the company were engaged in any criminal activity, however, it shows that the system is broken. New Zealand companies are set up without any checks; the lawyers who set them up don't necessarily even know the beneficial owner.

It is virtually impossible for police to pierce the corporate veil to determine who actually controls a shell company and to trace the funds back to the corrupt official. Anti-corruption and anti-money laundering experts are now working globally to make trusts and companies more transparent. Countries are taking action at a national level.

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