Agent behind complex webs

By Duncan Campbell and Craig Shaw | Originally published in the Sunday Times on 28 April 2013
Consultant Philip Burwell operates from a house in Dublin

Consultant Philip Burwell operates from a house in Dublin

 

 

A MODEST terraced red-brick house in southeast Dublin is the hub of a worldwide corporate empire that has set up companies involved in vast money-laundering operations.

The leaked offshore documents reveal that corporate consultant Philip Burwell, who operates from this address, is one of the world’s most prolific corporate offshore agents.

Burwell’s skill is creating complex networks of companies with nominee directors and nominee companies, often in remote corners of the world, acting as directors and shareholders.

These nominees have little or no involvement in the businesses for which they are ostensibly responsible and their only role is to act as a front for the real owners.

Investigators on the trail of illicit funds have often found themselves trying to unpick one of Burwell’s labyrinthine corporate structures.

Burwell said last week that he had formed more than 1,000 British companies that are controlled offshore. He said the use of nominee offshore directors could help conceal the identities of the backers and avoid tax. He said he always conducted the required checks and complied with all relevant laws.

Burwell admitted that the use of nominee directors was not properly regulated by the authorities, but said it was beyond his control. “It’s an abuse and should not be allowed to happen,” he said.

Emails in the leaked cache of documents, however, reveal Burwell has used a panel of Latvian nominee directors, including Erik Vanagels, a pensioner, and Stan Gorin, a law graduate. He has  appointed more than 10 nominee companies to own shares, including one called Milltown Corporate Services and another called Ireland and Overseas Acquisitions.

Eurostate Corporation, a company managed by Burwell’s nominee companies, was at the centre of an alleged sham vaccine contract with Ukraine’s health ministry. The Ukraine government has tried to recover its money in the British and American courts.

Another of Burwell’s companies, Tomex Team Inc, was revealed to be the owner of the MV Faina, a Ukrainian cargo ship containing tanks and arms which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2008. The shipment was bound for Sudan, then under an arms embargo.

Burwell also helped to create a company for Mukhtar Ablyazov, the Kazakh billionaire accused of looting the BTA bank in Kazakhstan  of $5bn. The company,  Loginex Projects LLP, was among a number of companies that were allegedly used to move $1bn illegally from the bank.

Burwell said the financial ransacking of the bank was considered “the biggest fraud” in history. He created Loginex Projects LLP, but said he did not know it would be used for laundering. Burwell also set up offshore companies for the son of Valery Kargin, one of the founders of Parex, Latvia’s largest private bank.

The bank collapsed in December 2008. Kargin and a fellow director were sued for having “enriched themselves at the bank’s expense”.

Burwell said he was not responsible for the operation of the companies he helped to create and appointed nominee directors and shareholders under instruction from clients.

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