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 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.
Documents on Mossack Fonseca were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with the Guardian and other media outlets.
The files show that Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office appears to have been using the Samoan High Commission in Canberra, about 4,500km 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 16 April 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.
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.
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.”
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.