A stain on Samoa’s name

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Perhaps someone within Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration could enlighten us on how Samoa’s High Commission Office in Australia has ended up in the middle of one of the biggest tax haven leaks of recent times. 

We say this because now that Prime Minister Tuilaepa has said that he is unaware about Samoa’s involvement with the Mossack Fonseca controversy, surely somebody in there must know. 

Given the importance of the Samoa International Finance Authority (S.I.F.A) and offshore finances to Prime Minister Tuilaepa’s administration, something just doesn’t add up.

You see in the eyes of the world today, there is one undeniable truth. The name Samoa and the term tax haven are inseparable. They are one. 

So contrary to what the government has been saying about offshore finances, Samoa’s name has been permanently stained and as a country we will struggle to shake the tax haven tag. 

But that’s understandable.  Folks, we’ve known for some time now that Samoa has been heralded as one of the leading tax havens in the Pacific. Which means that the revelations in the Panama Papers do not surprise us at all. 

The real shame in all this is that the name Samoa is being mentioned in the same breath with terms such as money laundering, tax avoidance, dirty offshore trusts and others that no person in their right mind would want to be associated with. 

It’s an oddity for a country where its leadership gloats about good governance, transparency, accountability, fairness and justice every other day. Whatever views you subscribe to when it comes to this issue, the reality is that offshore finances mostly involve the elite and corrupt operating beyond the rules, rejecting what is decent and just. 

Now for the uninitiated, the Panama Papers is the talk of the world today.

Briefly, it is a huge leak of 11.5 million documents from a Panama law firm, which reveals how the world’s rich hide their money. The leak comes from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, one of the world’s most secretive offshore law firms. 

The documents were apparently obtained by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a daily newspaper headquartered in Munich. Sueddeutsche who shared it with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and other news outlets, including the BBC and the Guardian. 

And what do they show?

“The cache of 11.5 million records shows how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars,” says the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

And where does Samoa come in?

Well according to a story titled “Samoan diplomat used to help Fonseca create shell companies” published by The Guardian last week, an officer at Samoa’s High Commission in Australia routinely assisted Mossack Fonseca in creating shell companies. One of those shell companies later faced sanctions for supplying goods to the Syrian government and military. 

A shell company by the way is an entity that is usually created for business transactions but has limited assets and offers low visibility of the activities it undertakes. It appeals mostly to people who want to avoid tax, launder money or shift funds out of the sight of authorities.

According to the story, the files show that Mossack Fonseca’s Samoan office appears to have been using the Samoan High Commission in Canberra, to assist it in forwarding documents for the creation of shell companies to other countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

The revelation of course has been denied.

In a statement to the Guardian, Samoa’s 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.”

Okay then Ms. Petana. We hear you.

But what do the government officials here say about this? 

Someone should tell us. Let’s wait and see.

Have a wonderful week Samoa, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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