Pandora profile reveals the 'ancestor' of keeping secrets for customers in tax paradise - The last period

During the 1990s, Briggs started marketing financial models and soon spotted a potential client – a successful Sydney accountant named Vanda Gould.

Final period: Customers with a lot of money, many problems

During the 1990s, Briggs started marketing financial models and soon spotted a potential client – a successful Sydney accountant named Vanda Gould.

Accountants and superannuation models in Samoa

Vanda Gould. Photo: abc
Vanda Gould. Photo: abc

Inside a wire fence at Long Bay prison in Sydney, Vanda Gould is unloading a bid for teaching a witness how to testify in a tax-related case. In prison, he still provides financial advice to fellow inmates.

Earlier, at a conference, Gould and Briggs ran into each other and the conversation quickly turned into business. Briggs introduced a new product, a Samoan superannuation model, tax free in both Samoa and Australia. Unlike other superannuations, this money is not locked until retirement and can be used as “back-to-back credit” at any time.

In his 1993 letter to Gould, Briggs addressed the loophole that made this super profitable. Although superannuation contributions in Samoa are subject to 47% income tax in Australia, the Australian Taxation Office has no authority to collect this tax as Western Samoa does not have a tax treaty with Australia.

Briggs assured Gould that this financial structure would be strictly confidential. Gould quickly adopted this model and sold it to his clients, including fund managers, bankers and friends and family. Gould visited the Asiaciti corporate office in Samoa.

Two people hire lawyers to prepare the deed, participate in every transaction. Gould made a lot of money. Then things started to fall apart.

The Australian Taxation Office saw through how the two men took advantage of the tax structure and ordered Gould's customers to pay $300 million in taxes and penalties.

Pandora records reveal that Asiaciti is already preparing moves in Samoa. In September 2012, a senior Asiaciti manager sent an urgent appeal to the Samoan Attorney General, urging the government to join the Australian tax case related to Gould's financial model. "If Samoa does not have some form of protest, it will greatly damage confidence in Samoa's international banking industry," the person wrote.

In 2015, Asiaciti fought against moves to close one of the companies Gould controls, even after a federal court in Australia concluded that Gould's clients owed millions in taxes.

These efforts failed. In a civil case, Gould was found by a federal court to control certain offshore structures and the Australian Taxation Office sent tax notices worth millions of dollars to companies and their customers. Gould.

While in prison after the above case, Group continued to insist that he complied with tax laws.

The Ticketers and the Cook Islands

Ken Lowson. Photo: abc
Ken Lowson. Photo: abc

In March 2020, a man named Ken Lowson was watching the world from the 25th floor of the most beautiful Century building in the most beautiful place in the heart of Los Angeles, USA. Lowson is a ticket speculator. His technique is to use extremely fast automated software to buy tickets to popular events in bulk. For more than a dozen years, he has traded millions of dollars worth of tickets.

In 2005, the band U2 had to apologize to fans at the Grammy Awards after Lowson's company bought most of the front-seat tickets for the group's Vertigo tour. Lowson's company made $25 million in profits selling these tickets.

One day, FBI agents burst into Lowson's office and searched. Despite his anger, Lowson was not worried that he would lose all his money. A few years earlier, after suddenly realizing that he needed to protect his assets, he arranged to meet a lawyer and since then became a client of Asiaciti. Lowson's attorney suggested a Swiss and Cook Islands bank.

The Cook Islands look like a few specks of dust on a world map. In addition to being famous as a fun snorkeling place, these tropical islands are also famous for one product that Asiasiti sells: property protection.

A Cook Islands trust, legally established and maintained, is as secure as a bank deposit box, a place to hide assets from the prying eyes of creditors, family members, even government officials. However, it can be abused.

Cook Islands trusts can provide asset protection under a mandatory enforcement clause, which blocks the owner's assets if he or she is sued or tracked down by the authorities.

Asiaciti turns these forms of protection into compelling content to market to customers. In a 2015 promotional brochure about Cook Islands trusts, Asiaciti tells how two clients were jailed and preserved their money, leaving the US courts untouchable.

While in prison in California, the trust that Asiaciti set up for Lowson seemed like a good idea. But one problem is that he needs $1.25 million bail to get out. When this money was taken from the Cook Islands trust, it was transferred to the United States to bail Lowson, and became the subject of a dispute between Lowson and his estranged wife. After that, Lowson never saw the money again. In November 2010, Lown pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire transfer fraud.

Pandora files show Briggs' Asiaciti facing a lawsuit for the first time, allegedly withdrawing funds without the necessary signature. Fearing damage to her reputation, Asiaciti settled with Lowson's wife. Asiaciti's secret is safe for now, but Briggs' company is about to face a much bigger challenge.

Political clients

Abubakarng Abubakar Atiku Bagudu. :Nh: Daily Trust
Abubakarng Abubakar Atiku Bagudu. :Nh: Daily Trust

On the morning of December 11, 2017, a disturbing letter appeared in the mailbox of an Asiaciti director: Singapore will examine Asiaciti in relation to money laundering and terrorist financing. This is a serious problem. Singapore is home to Asiaciti's headquarters.

After the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) inspectors entered Asiaciti's headquarters, they discovered a number of suspicious large transactions. Behind these transactions are worrisome customers.

Offshore accounting firms in tax havens can attract a special type of client that industry insiders call a “politically exposed person” (PEP). PEPs are primarily politicians, civil servants or members of international agencies, and may also include family members and close associates.

For many years, Asiaciti has had a significant number of PEP clients. Among them is Eduardo Cunha, a Brazilian politician sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2017 for corruption, tax evasion and money laundering; businessman Thirukumar Nadesan, family member of Prime Minister of Sri Lanka accused of embezzlement of public funds; Du Shuanghua, a Chinese billionaire in 2010 admitted a bribe of $9 million to an employee of the Australian company Rio Tinto; Nigerian senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, who is accused of assisting former Nigerian President Sania Abacha in stealing billions of dollars.

Despite Bagudu's growing accusations, Briggs' company Asiaciti continues to work with him as he has never been convicted. Some of his illegal assets are kept in trust accounts set up by Asiaciti. In 2014, Asiaciti had to freeze the money under an order obtained by the US. Last year, the United States returned Nigeria $311 million worth of property stolen during Abacha's time and is still seeking another $177 million.

Asiaciti should have regularly monitored such high-risk clients to understand why they set up offshore structures, but what the Monetary Authority of Singapore inspectors discovered inside Asiaciti made them shocked. They found that in a year, half of Asiaciti's high-risk trust accounts were not adequately supervised. The company does not even periodically review and when it does, it does not follow the recommendations. As they dug deeper, the inspectors began to focus on a group of Russian customers, including one particular PEP: Herman Gref.

Russian Customers

Herman Gref. Photo: vestnik
Herman Gref. Photo: vestnik

Three years after Briggs and Gref's meeting in Moscow, Gref became a problem. The inspectors learned about the affairs of Gref and the Russian clients of Asiaciti.

Gref and other Russian clients involved in transactions worth tens of millions of dollars through the complex network of structures that Asiaciti erected. Examining these transactions, they discovered rumors of misconduct but failed to prove it.

Singapore inspectors reviewed how Asiaciti was managing risks associated with Russian clients and they discovered a series of rounds of money transfers that were allowed to pass through trust accounts managed by Asiasiti. During a confidential internal meeting in April 2019, Asiaciti staff discussed the problem of the company's Russian customer. They admit there are instances of inconsistencies and unreasonable transactions. Asiaciti has closed several accounts related to Gref.

In July 2020, Briggs' company was fined $1.1 million by Singapore for violations it discovered during its investigation. Asiaciti released a statement saying the issues had been resolved and the company's new management team would ensure compliance with the law.

Briggs was not charged. These days, Briggs has stopped running the day-to-day operations of Asiaciti and lives on a large vineyard on the Mornington Peninsula, Australia. Like the assets of Asiaciti clients, the majority of Briggs' assets are protected within a complex offshore company and trust structure.

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