On November 15, 2017 we posted More Then 31,000 US Taxpayers Exposed in Paradise Papers!
The leak of 556,000 files from Asiaciti passed largely unnoticed within the Paradise Papers, a trove of 13.4 million documents that reveal offshore secrets of politicians, celebrities, billionaires and companies whose brands are household names. Asiaciti’s emails, trust application forms, faxes and bank statements are vastly outnumbered by leaked documents from Appleby, a law firm and corporate services provider with offices around the globe.
Yet the files from Asiaciti – a trust specialist headquartered in Singapore, with branches in tax havens such as the Cook Islands and Samoa in the Pacific and Nevis in the Caribbean, shine a light on the practices of offshore clients ranging from the ultra-wealthy to the unremarkable, with a host of questionable clients in between.
Founded in 1978 by Graeme Briggs, an Australian accountant, Asiaciti expanded throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It has described itself as “one of the leading offshore trust groups in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Offshore trusts are often inscrutable legal instruments with blurred official ownership. The details are rarely a matter of public record. Trusts allow the publicity-shy to act out of sight of creditors, ex-spouses or courts.
Asiaciti has specialized in establishing trusts in Samoa and the Cook Islands, nations of 200,000 and 11,000 people, respectively. Within 24 hours and for less than $300, a client could buy “ ‘state of the art’ offshore products” to build and preserve wealth, according to an archived version of Asiaciti’s website.
“The sad fact is that Cook Islands trusts are routinely used by people to cheat legitimate creditors,” said Jay Adkisson, an attorney and expert witness in a fraud case that involved Asiaciti’s trust division.
It’s difficult and expensive for creditors, attorneys or the tax office to access funds held by a client’s trust, Adkisson said.
Novis and Denkberg had one trust each with Asiaciti that at one stage held more than $1 million each, according to Asiaciti’s files. In February 2007, Novis asked the firm to help him find a bank that did not have “a presence in the USA.” Both men’s trusts were active in 2016 when Asiaciti learned of the civil case.
In 2016, a court imposed an injunction that prohibited Novis and Denkberg from mailing prize offers and sweepstakes in the United States. The Justice Department took no further action, a spokesman told ICIJ.
Denkberg told ICIJ that his trust was not involved in the civil case and that, to his knowledge, it had not held more than $1 million. The trust complied with the law and was declared to tax authorities, he said. Novis did not reply to requests for comment.
During and after his eight years in prison on a previous fraud conviction, Unkefer concealed assets to avoid repaying $18 million to more than 1,300 fraud victims, the prosecutor alleged.
Asiaciti was listed as a co-defendant in the case and was served with the complaint in the Cook Islands in June 2014, emails show.
The racketeering claim against Unkefer has been dropped, although alleged victims continue to seek compensation, a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor told ICIJ. Reached by phone, Unkefer’s partner said the couple had no comment.
The money in the Mango Trust was returned to the United States in 2014, said Michael FitzGibbons, the court-appointed officer who is seeking compensation for Unkefer’s victims.
Read more at: Tax Times blog