Vancouver linked to Panamanian leak
Company at the heart of the furor set up office downtown in late ’90s
The Panamanian company Mossack Fonseca, which is at the centre of a global furor over a massive document leak revealing how thousands of people and entities use offshore tax havens, had a foray into British Columbia in the late 1990s, The Vancouver Sun has learned.
A company named Mossack Fonseca (Canada) Inc. was incorporated on May 29, 1998 and had an office in downtown Vancouver on West Georgia, according to B.C. Corporate Registry records.
The company was dissolved less than a year later, on April 12, 1999, according to the registry record.
Its sole director was listed as Frederick L. Sharp of West Vancouver.
Although the Canadian company has long been dissolved, a phone number for Mossack Fonseca listed on online directories remains active.
And a map on a Mossack Fonseca-Hong Kong website — but not on the company’s main website — also shows an existing Mossack Fonseca location at a downtown office on Melville in Vancouver.
Messages left for Sharp and others at the number listed in the online directories were not returned. The message recording does not list a company name.
Mossack Fonseca in Panama did not respond to emailed questions from The Sun regarding the Vancouver operation, but has issued a general statement saying that incorporating offshore companies is legal and common for lawyers and agents around the world.
In the statement posted on its website, Mossack Fonseca also noted that during its nearly 40 years of operations it has never been charged with criminal wrongdoing or been formally investigated in connection with allegations of the same.
It is not known what activities, if any, Mossack Fonseca (Canada) Inc. carried out during its 11-month incorporation in British Columbia or if activity is carried out today.
Sharp has been involved in businesses that deal in creating offshore companies.
In an archived 2008 website, a lawyer named Fred Sharp is listed under partners and associates for a Vancouver private investment banking firm, Corporate House. At the time the company said: “We provide confidential and personalized assistance to people and businesses that wish to create advantageous financial structures both inside and outside their home countries.”
At the time, Corporate House said it had a strategic partnership with the Bond Mercantile Group, a company with offices in the British Virgin Islands that helps setup offshore companies. Corporate House no longer has an active website.
According to B.C. Corporate Registry records, the Melville Street address in downtown Vancouver for Corporate House Equity Inc., listing Fred Sharp as sole director, is the same address for the Vancouver operation of Mossack Fonseca listed on the Hong Kong website. Corporate House is also listed in online directories at the same address.
A Vancouver Sun article from 2013 said that Corporate House on Melville, run by Fred Sharp and his brother Tom, helped broker a deal to buy what was believed then to be Michelangelo sculptures, which were donated to the Museum of Vancouver for millions of dollars of tax credits. The sculptures turned out not to be Michelangelo’s, and of much less value to the museum, but an expert at the time said that was likely because of changing scholarship, not overt error or bad faith.
Another Sun article from 1995 said that Frederick Sharp was suspended by the Law Society of B.C. for one year and ordered to pay $12,000 in hearing costs for infractions involving a Vancouver Stock Exchange company.
The leak of 11.5 million confidential documents spanning decades from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca is considered one of the largest-ever data dumps. The data was provided to the German newspaper Suddentsche, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
It has been reported that there are 350 Canadians named in the massive amounts of data.
University of B.C. law professor David Duff said if offshore accounts are used to hide or launder money, that is illegal. Using offshore tax havens for tax avoidance can also be illegal, particularly in countries such as Canada that don’t allow taxes to be avoided with complicated schemes that in themselves may not be illegal, he said.
However, Duff said countries like Canada should not have to rely on illegal data dumps to find out what is happening in offshore tax havens.
That should be happening through agreements and automatic information exchanges with governments in these jurisdictions, he said.
The Panama secrecy leak claimed its first casualty after Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson resigned following allegations he had sought to hide his wealth and dodge taxes.
The decision was announced in parliament after the legislature had been the focus of street protests that attracted thousands of Icelanders angered by the alleged tax evasion efforts of their leader. Gunnlaugsson, who will step down a year before his term was due to end, gave in to mounting pressure from the opposition and even from corners of his own party.
The Panama files showed that the 41-year-old leader and his wife had investments placed in the British Virgin Islands, which included debt in Iceland’s three failed banks. The leaked documents therefore also raise questions about Gunnlaugsson’s role in overseeing negotiations with the banks’ creditors. Ironically, the offshore investments were held while Iceland enforced capital controls.
Gunnlaugsson is the second Icelandic premier to resign amid a popular uprising, after Geir Haarde was forced out following protests in 2009.