December 10, 2023

In Good Company (n.d.)

In Good Company (n.d.)

Wopke Hoekstra, Dutch Finance Minister

Photo: dpa/ANP/Sem Van Der Wal

The names of more than 300 politicians from around the world appear on Pandora’s Papers. The publication came at an inopportune time for Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. At the last stage of the Czech election campaign, for example, it became known that he had acquired a chalet in the south of France through several e-mail companies – for $22 million. Billionaire lost the election closely.

Babish may have grabbed the headlines, but another European politician currently needs an explanation. When EU finance ministers decided at the beginning of October to remove tax haven Seychelles from the list of “non-cooperative countries and regions” (see column in the margin), Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra was there as well. The fact that the head of the Christian Democratic Appeals (CDA) helped clean up the Seychelles tax haven has a special taste. Because Hoekstra himself escaped €26,500 via a tax haven, as can be read in “Pandora’s Papers”. The money went not to the Seychelles but to the British Virgin Islands, but criticism of the former partner of management consulting firm McKinsey is growing, also in his home country. Especially since he was a member of one of the Senate committees that dealt with tax evasion long before he took office.

Hoekstra himself is not aware of any guilt: he invested in a friend’s safari company and was unaware that the payments were made through a post office box company in the British Virgin Islands. Not only the head of the Socialist Party, Lilian Marijshavten, wonders if the minister “remains credible in the fight against tax evasion”.

Hoekstra is not the only EU politician associated with or associated with the Virgin Islands mailbox companies. Former EU Health Commissioner and longtime Malta Finance Minister, John Daly, founded letterbox Westmead Overseas Ltd. in Seychelles in 2006. Daly’s two daughters replaced him as general manager in 2008. Daly told ICIJ that he set up the company to own shares in a project that “never materialized”. However, he kept his activities a secret from the Maltese Parliament, which goes against the Code of Ethics for Members of the European Parliament in Malta. Daly’s secrecy should arouse suspicion, after all, he had to resign from the Conservative Party twice over allegations of corruption, which he was never able to completely refute.

Tax havens are created for dodgy payments and dirty deals. This is also shown by the example of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists wrote that the former comedian owned shares “in an anonymous offshore company as well as some of his business partners who are now close political allies”. Shortly before his election, Selinsky transferred his shares to a friend who is still considered close to the president and still owns the shares.

The example of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair clearly shows how tax havens make the rich even richer. There is no doubt that the former Labor leader is wealthy. His estimated net worth is around $60 million. The neoliberal reformer appears to be trying to protect his fortune from the eyes of the tax authorities. Blair and his wife set up a company in Great Britain and then acquired a company in the British Virgin Islands, which in turn owns property in London. Since the Blairs did not purchase the house in a prime location directly, but only bought the company that owned the house, they did not have to pay property tax in Great Britain. According to the Guardian, the Blair couple saved about $400,000. Everything is completely legal…

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This means that the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is in good company. The aggressive former politician had an offshore company registered in Morocco withholding millions of dollars in consulting fees he received from clients such as Rosneft or the Chinese airline group HNA. The sole purpose of this build: tax evasion.