ISSN 2330-717X

Balkan Offshore Businesses Named In Panama Database – Analysis

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Scores of people and companies linked to Balkan countries appear in the searchable online database of more than 320,000 offshore companies and trusts leaked from Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca which was made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ on Monday.

The database published by the ICIJ – which stresses the fact that the people included in the list are not accused of breaking any law – includes the names and addresses of a range of firms and individuals from across the Balkans that have in the past exploited secretive offshore tax havens.

Albania

Nineteen individuals, six companies and two offshore entities are linked to Albania in the database.

However some of them are not Albanians, such as Sultan Bin Jassin Al-Thani, the head of the ruling family of Qatar, and Sheikh Hamed Bin Hamed Al Hamed from Abu Dhabi.

One well-known Albanian name however is Ismail Mulleti, a businessman who co-owns a company that has currently a much-criticised concessionary agreement with the Albanian government to put chemical markers in fuel as a measure to prevent fraudulent adulteration.

Bosnia

The database published by ICIJ revealed the identity of four Bosnian citizens. The most prominent figures are Nedim Uzunovic, the director of the Bosnian pharmaceutical company Bosnaljek, and Amel Kovacevic, a former Bosnian ambassador to China.

Uzunovic, according to the documents, owned shares of in company Serreta Investing Inc., which was registered in Tel Aviv, Israel, while Kovacevic owned shares in Green Energy Group Ltd, registered in London.

Kovacevic also confirmed to Bosnian media on Monday night that he, together with Edin Smajic, another Bosnian citizen whose name is in the database – and whose identity still needs to be confirmed – registered a company in Hong Kong after the end of his mandate as Bosnian ambassador.

“We did it because of the taxes, there are almost no taxes there,” Kovacevic told Sarajevo-based website Klix, but he said that the company never did any bueiness and “didn’t survive”.

Croatia

According to the database published by the ICIJ, 38 people connected to Croatia, including businessmen, entrepreneurs and managers, have shares in offshore companies.

These individuals, all mostly unknown to the public, are employed by or own companies specialising in export and trade, garbage disposal and recycling.

Media are still checking the identity of some of those named, as one of them, Zlatko Garac, is believed to live in Romania, where he was shot and wounded in 2013.

There are 20 offshore entities connected to Croatia, along with four intermediaries.

Macedonia

Roland Zlatku, Slobodan Spasovski and Aleksandar Panovski and John Jonovski are the four Macedonian nationals named in the Panama Papers database.

Zlatku is registered as a shareholder in the company Eniston Development Corp., registered in the British Virgin Islands, while Spasovski is linked to the company Fission Dev Ltd, registered in the Seychelles.

Panovski has admitted owning Orient Oil & Gas Limited, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands.

“I am the owner of the company Orient Oil & Gas Limited, and through it I trade oil, metals and other products,” Panovski told Telma TV.

“I see nothing odd and problematic in owning a firm in the Virgin Islands. This is a practice applied by many people who work with these products. I have lived outside Macedonia for 20 years and I do not have a company registered there. Currently I live and work in Iran,” he added.

According to the database, Jonovski, who lives in Britain, is linked to the company Phalanx Capital Inc, also registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Montenegro

Two companies from Montenegro and dozens of individuals are listed in the ICIJ database.

The database names the Montenegro Investment Corp and Montenegro Trade Company Inc, registered in the Seychelles and Panama but linked to other offshore companies in Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Two Montenegrin nationals, Slobodan Perovic and Branko Vujosevic, are also named in the database, along with several foreigners who registered companies in Montenegro, although their identities have yet to be confirmed.

Romania

A total of 109 people or businesses connected to Romania are mentioned in the database, including politicians, media moguls and energy companies, along with eight offshore companies and six intermediaries.

Among the most prominent names is Sorin Ovidiu Vantu, a Romanian businessman and former media mogul who owned Realitatea Media, considered one of the richest men in Romania before 2010.

In 2012, he was sentenced to one year in jail for having blackmailed the former manager of Realitatea Media and in 2014, he was sentenced to two years in jail for helping controversial businessman Nicolae Popa in the FNI bankruptcy case.

FNI (Fondul National de Investitii) was a pyramid scheme which went bust in 2000, causing thousands of people to lose their savings.

The database includes a former state secretary in the finance ministry and the former vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Ionut Costea, who is a shareholder in several offshore companies.

It also includes Corneliu Iacobov, a former Social Democrat politician and ex-owner of the Rafo Onesti refinery, who was sentenced to seven years in jail for fraud in 2012.

Serbia

Eighteen businessmen and managers from Serbia who have companies in tax havens are listed in the database, as well as nine offshore entities.

Among them are businessmen Srdjan Saper, Zoran Drakulic, Miodrag Kostic and others.

The documents say that businessman Drakulic acted as a proxy for a company that controlled a firm that is suspected of helping to take money out of Serbia.

Vuk Hamovic, a well-known electricity trader, was also mentioned in the Panama Papers data as Drakulic’s business partner. All the men denied any wrongdoing.

Kosovo was not included in the Panama Papers database.

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Balkan Insight

The Balkan Insight (fornerkt the Balkin Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN) is a close group of editors and trainers that enables journalists in the region to produce in-depth analytical and investigative journalism on complex political, economic and social themes. BIRN emerged from the Balkan programme of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting, IWPR, in 2005. The original IWPR Balkans team was mandated to localise that programme and make it sustainable, in light of changing realities in the region and the maturity of the IWPR intervention. Since then, its work in publishing, media training and public debate activities has become synonymous with quality, reliability and impartiality. A fully-independent and local network, it is now developing as an efficient and self-sustainable regional institution to enhance the capacity for journalism that pushes for public debate on European-oriented political and economic reform.

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