Undercover reporters offered advice on how to hide funds by creating an offshore structure with a nominee director
Staff at agencies that set up companies in the UK and abroad have been filmed undercover, making it clear that nominee directors are regularly used as shams.
The startling footage is from a parallel investigation by BBC Panorama, to be broadcast late Monday.
In one section, an undercover reporter told James Turner of York-based Turner Little: “I’ve got this money in a Swiss bank and I haven’t paid the tax on it. So what I need to do is get it out of there.”
Turner suggested an offshore structure with a foundation in Belize: “It doesn’t link back to you, it doesn’t link back to your family. So it gives you complete confidentiality.”
Nominee directors would be used, he said, because “they don’t know who you are, they’ve never heard of you … They won’t even know that they are a director, they just get paid … We have a stamp of the nominees’ signatures. Which is kept in my safe. So the nominee never sees any paperwork at all.”
Another undercover reporter, using a different cover story, told a representative of the Dubai-based Atlas Corporate Services that confidentiality was a fundamental condition for him. Atlas administrator Luke Pidgeon suggested using nominee directors. He explained this would keep the client’s name away from the company itself. Pidgeon claimed half of the nominees on Atlas’s books were not even aware of the companies to which they were appointed. They simply provided signatures as necessary, he said.
The BBC’s undercover team filmed the Atlas founder, former Sark islander Jesse Hester, at his Mauritius headquarters in the Indian Ocean, advising on how to dodge British tax on the £6m in a Swiss bank. He suggested, “off the record”, that they use an offshore entity in Panama.
“If there’s a tax issue … they won’t disclose any information on that foundation under Panamanian law,” he said.
The odds on the British tax authorities catching up with the potential customer were low, he promised: “Tax authorities don’t have the resources to chase everybody down … They reckon it’s probably the same rough odds as probably winning the lottery.”
Another incorporation agency operator told the undercover reporters: “My risk in all of this is I could be seen to be helping somebody evade tax, or something like that yeah and so that’s where the risk is.”An undercover reporter also approached Readymade Companies Worldwide, a firm in Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, saying he represented Indian government figures who wanted to hide their funds.
Its managing director, Russell Lebe, gave assurances about not releasing information to tax authorities: “If we were approached by the Indian tax authority … and they’re doing tax evasion, we wouldn’t give a monkey’s.”
He and a colleague agreed that they would accept a false statement about who was the beneficial owner, in order to keep the names of the real clients off the books.
“As far as all our files will show, obviously you’ll be down as the owner … So there’ll be no emails and nothing in writing to say that anyone else is the owner and it’ll all go under your name. Absolutely fine. You know, this is a confidential – this is a confidential discussion we have, as far as anyone is concerned you’ll be the owner.”
Panorama’s report, Undercover: How to Dodge Tax, is to be broadcast on Monday at 8.30pm on BBC1.