A Jersey-based financial firm that had close ties to a controversial property deal unearthed in last year’s Panama Papers probe, which contributed to the downfall of the Pakistani prime minister last week, has defended its role in the matter.
The firm, Minerva Trust and Corporate Services Ltd, had been appointed as service provider and shareholder for two offshore shell companies that had been revealed, in the Panama Papers, to have been used by three children of the former Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to buy properties in London.
Last week Sharif stood down from his position, after his country’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled to disqualify him from elected office in the wake of a series of corruption scandals which included revelations that he had not fully disclosed his family’s wealth and had used offshore jurisdictions to hide assets.
These revelations included links to offshore property deals that were deemed irregular by those involved in the Panama Papers’ investigations, which, as reported, saw more than 11 million documents leaked to the world’s media from the Panamanian offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm.
A Minerva Trust and Corporate Services spokesperson told International Investment that despite the ensuing scandal, it had acted with “strict due diligence” and followed “the correct procedures”, when dealing with the investment.
“Minerva provided services to two companies that are registered in the BVI, (Nielsen Enterprises Ltd & Nescoll Ltd) which owned property in London,” the spokesperson said.
“We applied strict due diligence on the beneficial owner of the companies to meet the requirement of Jersey’s regulations and followed the correct procedures while administering them. That service ended in 2014.”
In a statement on the matter, the Jersey Financial Services Commission, which regulates the finance sector, said that it would not comment on an individual case but could take “enforcement actions” against any firms which do not comply with its due diligence requirements.
The London properties were not declared on Sharif’s official family wealth statement, and were only revealed by the Panama Papers leak in April 2016, prompting protests in Pakistan, and calls for the family to be investigated.
According to information unearthed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which put together the Panama Papers from the leaked Mossack Fonseca documents, Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, had misled them during their inquiries by saying she was the “trustee” and not the owner of Avendale Properties, four flats located in London’s exclusive Mayfair district.
However, the ICIJ claimed Maryam Nawaz was, in fact, the ultimate beneficial owner of the properties, and had falsified a document to support her claims to the contrary.
This document was proved to be false when it was discovered that it was written in the Calibri font, which turned out not to have been available at the time the forged document had supposedly been signed, in 2006, according to the ICIJ.
Sharif’s resignation marked the first time in history that a Pakistani leader had been disqualified.
The two property-owning shell companies involved in the scandal were Nielsen Enterprises Ltd and Nescoll Ltd, both of which, as noted above, are based in the British Virgin Islands.
Minerva Trust and Corporate Services was appointed intermediary services provider for both companies, with Minerva Nominees Ltd and Minerva Services Ltd acting as shareholders.
The JFSC’s statement on the matter in full said: “The JFSC is aware of the recent media coverage in respect of former Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, regarding information uncovered in the leaked documents from offshore firm Mossack Fonseca. Customer due diligence requirements are set out in Jersey law and JFSC regulatory rules.
“The JFSC supervises all regulated financial service providers for compliance with these requirements. If they are not met, one potential response is that enforcement action can be taken against the firm concerned.”