Belgian public money in offshore structure

A Belgian investment company, SBI, with the Belgian state as a majority stake holder, appears in the “Paradise Papers”, Belgian newspapers reported on Wednesday.

SBI has hold a financial interest in a company named “Infra Asia Development (Vietnam) Limited”, registered in the British Virgin Islands, which is on the Belgian blacklist of tax havens.

The offshore company was established in October 1996, according to Le Soir, De Tijd and Knack, who met with SBI managers Philippe Hermans and Erna Vandeplas.

It was via Infra Asia Development that the SBI was able to implement a project in 1999 for the construction of a port area in Dinh Vu, Vietnam, a project supported by Antwerp’s Rent-a-Port and American insurer AIG.

“As soon as Rent-a-Port had control of the structure, they immediately moved the company to a 100% legitimate jurisdiction,” say the managers of SBI.

However, in 2014 a new company was created, located in Hong Kong: Infra Asia Investment, whose holding company is a Virgin Islands company. The SBI has meanwhile begun to resell its project shares and holds less than 4% of Infra Asia today.

The newspapers note that Hans D’Hondt, head of the Belgian tax authorities, was a member of the SBI Board of Directors from March 2006 to June 2016. Other known person, Jean-Claude Fontinoy from SNCB, chairs SBI since 2010.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ, the Paradis Papers is a global investigation into the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies.

ICIJ and 95 media partners, including five Belgian journalists, explored 13.4 million leaked files from a combination of offshore service providers and company. The files were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The Paradise Papers documents include nearly 7 million loan agreements, financial statements, emails, trust deeds and other paperwork from nearly 50 years at Appleby, a leading offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond.

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