Former Foreign Minister Pierre Chevalier signed documents to build a post office in Hong Kong. It leads to a building in Panama, behind which is hiding Belgian-Congolese businessman George Forrest. We followed the path in Pandora Papers.
In addition to 35 current and former government leaders and heads of state, the Bandura Papers also found more than 330 politicians and senior officials from more than 90 countries. For our country, it concerns the 69-year-old politician Pierre Chevalier from Bruges, who was foreign minister several times between 1988 and 2000. Between 2003 and 2007, he was a senator and then a special envoy of the UN Security Council for a year. Until he had to resign from the United Nations in May 2008 because – without the knowledge of the government – he also took a high position in the group of Belgian-Congolese businessman Georges Forrest. He was previously a manager there until 2006.
In the Pandora Papers, documents from 14 offices that set up structures in tax havens were leaked. They opened Pandora’s box, with more than 11.9 million files about mailbox companies in notorious tax havens. It comes with 2.94 terabytes of confidential data. The Panama Papers, which limited disclosure to a single Panama law firm, sparked a torrent of financial scandals around the world five years ago.
Together with ICIJ’s Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 600 journalists from 150 media outlets around the world, de Tejd examined the documents of the Pandora Papers for several months. It is the largest collaboration in the history of journalism. With the help of Knack and Le Soir, we were able to examine more than 33,700 files referring to Belgium. We tracked 1,217 Belgians or residents of our country, who had a total of 1,215 companies and box mailboxes set up in tax havens.
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It’s also like Forrest’s right-hand man the former Secretary of State shows in this international data breach. Chevalier remains Vice Chairman of Groupe Forrest International, the holding company in Wavre above the group’s subsidiaries, which are mainly located in Congo. Its turnover last year was 92 million euros. The Forrest Group, which has completely abandoned Congolese mining in recent years, is focusing on the construction of roads, hospitals, and other public and private buildings in the Congo, as well as energy projects. Forrest sold arms company Liège New Lachaussée this year as well as last year his 66 percent stake in BCCI.
only on paper
However, the group’s annual accounts do not contain anything related to the construction of the mailbox which appears in the documents from the Asiaciti Trust office in Singapore. The mailbox company is called HCS Human Capital Services Limited.
Chevalier has been a director of that company in Hong Kong, which exists only on paper, since its founding in April 2013. George Forrest is the beneficial owner of the construction, through another Panama Post company, Financial Central Management Corp. This firm also exists only on paper and has simply been given the address of a Panamanian law firm. The Panamanian structure, which appears to have existed since 1988, was formerly called Financial Zaire Management Corp. It is no longer possible to determine whether the origin is pure.
Informed sources assert that Forrest spent years working with the maze of Panamanian holding companies hiding behind his company in Congo. To prevent the Congolese authorities from confiscating his shares or for other reasons?
Why did Forrest move from Panama to Hong Kong in 2013? Is it a coincidence that this happened in the same year that the database of the Panamanian company registry was hacked? All of the Panamanian company’s data — and many of its screen constructions — ended up online in 2013. Then it turned out that Forrest was hidden behind four Panamanian companies: Rosilla Assets, Minvert Investments, Gerdmont Holdings and Marlight Equities. It was not known at the time what they were for.
We know that about building in Pandora’s Leaves. According to the leaked papers, the goal is to pay the wages of “expats” working in the Congo to four branches of the Forrest Group. The construction will save about $700,000 a year for the group of executives. This concerns, for example, executives working for the subsidiary Entreprise Générale Malta Forrest, which is renovating a presidential palace in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, among other things.
The construction went smoothly through the Asiaciti trust bureau, but Hong Kong banks were not eager to provide the necessary accounts, according to the leaked documents. Banks considered the inflows of money from the Congo too risky.
Why then convert it by building a PO Box in Hong Kong? Because you can apply in Hong Kong to not pay taxes on profits made elsewhere in the world? In any case, the construction was set up with the help of tax consultants from Switzerland, of whom Forrest has been a client for years.
A structure in Hong Kong was chosen because it is geographically suitable for the workforce that we and our competitors are seeking.
The Forrest Group categorically denies the existence of suspicious financial flows or tax optimization, for example to withdraw taxes from the Congo. The spokeswoman, Caroline de Klerk, confirmed that people who work for the group in Congo are getting paid through the structure in Hong Kong. “They come from all over the world, including Europe, India, Canada, the Philippines, Indonesia and North Africa.”
In Congo, where employees are deployed, we pay a 14 percent profit tax on foreign shows. We established this in 2013, with the help of advisors, to better position the group against its competitors. A structure in Hong Kong was chosen because it is geographically relevant to the workforce that we and our competitors are seeking.
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