Saturday 25 November 2017

Search for family's millions leads to tropical paradise popular with honeymooners and tax-haven seekers

ON the balmy islands of Vanuatu, tourists idle away lazy days on idyllic beaches. Attracting honeymooners is only one of this South Pacific country's claims to fame. It is also a tax haven for the world's rich in search of a discrete offshore location for their fortunes.

This tropical paradise is the latest focal point for investigators on the global trail of the Quinn family's millions. A team acting for the former Anglo Irish Bank -- now the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation -- arrived on the tropical paradise in recent weeks on foot of new information about where the remnants of the Quinn fortune may be stashed.

The bank, in pursuit of outstanding €2.8bn loans, is trying to recover the Quinn family's €500m overseas property empire.

Sean Quinn, his son Sean and his nephew Peter, were found guilty of contempt of court for trying to thwart the bank's efforts. The most valuable assets -- a tower in Moscow and a Kiev shopping mall -- were effectively put in the hands of obscure corporate entities. The bank has been told that the rent they generate -- some $40m -- is paid into offshore accounts which investigators have not been able to trace.

But in recent weeks the net has been closing in on the Quinn fortune.

Financial investigators have been engaged in a global trawl to unravel the labyrinthine deals. Last week their inquiries led them to investigate business transactions in Sydney and Melbourne which, in turn, is believed to have alerted them to the Vanuatu link. It was unclear this weekend what, if anything, the investigators have found.

But it is most likely that they are on the scent of an offshore bank account.

Last year, Eamon Gilmore, the Tanaiste, signed a tax agreement with Vanuatu allowing for the exchange of information between both countries.

Vanuatu's financial services sector sells itself as an ideal base for foreign investors to place their "surplus funds". They sell the country as a "pure tax haven" that administers and manages offshore companies, trusts and banks. There is no income tax, wealth tax or tax on profit. There are "no exchange controls" and there are "extensive secrecy provisions".

Maeve Sheehan

Sunday Independent

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