Seychelles secrets: Island tourist paradise home to Russia-linked firm exploiting UK laws
Our main findings:
- Russian businesswoman recruited a team of Seychelles citizens to help front more than 900 shell firms in Britain
- UK firms stuffed with Seychelles fronts linked to catalogue of controversies, from suspect oil tankers to bogus heart pills
- Leaked documents suggest business figures from former Soviet Union secretly control UK firms
- Britain’s promised crackdown on illicit Russian finance backfires as new legislation fails to close loopholes
- Investigation adds pressure on Seychelles to clean up offshore industry
On paper, Luther Denis looks like one of Britain’s most prolific business tycoons. In the last six years, he has set up and run more than 180 UK firms, with activities including petrochemicals trading, charter flights, investment management, broadcasting services and software development.
But the reality is different. Denis, 34 (pictured above), has never set foot in Britain. He works in IT for a waste and pest control company in the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, more than 800 miles off the coast of Somalia.
As a side hustle, however, he received $250 a month for signing documents relating to firms registered in the UK
“We only sign papers but we do not take the decisions,” Denis explained, speaking in Creole, when reporters caught up with him. “There is a company here called Alpha Consulting. It is an offshore company. All these papers that they make you sign…you are paid a certain amount of money [for doing so].”
For its part, Alpha Consulting would not discuss Denis’s activities, out of respect, it said, for his privacy. In combination, Denis and his employer present an implacable wall of confidentiality typical of the offshore world.
But after months of investigation, journalists from Finance Uncovered, the BBC and Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation have traced the often controversial activities of more than a hundred UK firms fronted by Denis and other nominees linked to Alpha Consulting.
In addition, using previously unpublished documents from the Pandora Papers, Finance Uncovered has discovered the identity of the hidden owners behind many of these UK firms. Most of them have no connection to the UK and are based hundreds of miles to the East, in Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.
The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and first reported on in 2021.
Journalists shared a summary of their findings with the UK government but a spokesperson brushed them aside, insisting that firms of the kind set up by Luther Denis could not, as a matter of law, be secretly owned or controlled by anyone.
The spokesperson said the UK was already strengthening rules around how firms are registered, and last week passed the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act, which ministers have said “will close loopholes that allow corrupt actors to use opaque companies to move and hide money”
But detailed evidence published today blows apart these claims. Reporters have exposed how the new law fails to shut down a gaping loophole that allows hundreds of individuals in the former Soviet Union to hide their links to shady business activities — even alleged corruption and criminality — using a British corporate facade.
There is no suggestion that Denis or anyone else connected to Alpha Consulting acted illegally by fronting UK firms, or that they had any involvement in the management of these businesses. Decisions at these firms were taken by Alpha Consulting's end clients.
In total, journalists identified 927 UK-registered firms that were set up on behalf of hidden owners by nominees linked to Alpha Consulting. The 32 nominees ranged from Alpha Consulting’s office administrator to its cleaner, but also included freelancers such as Luther Denis as well as corporate nominees not owned by Alpha Consulting but registered to its offices in the Seychelles or Belize.
Victoria Valkovskaya, 49, (pictured below) the agency’s Russian founder who has lived in the Seychelles since 2005, confirmed these fronts had been repeatedly used to set up hundreds of UK firms. “The use of nominees is not something new or illegal in the industry,” she said.
Each time Denis registered new firms in the UK, on the same day he typically signed a series of confidential side agreements (for example here), as well as an undated letter of resignation. Together, they provided the means by which Denis transferred control to Alpha Consulting’s end client, the firm’s hidden owner.
Finance Uncovered found hundreds of these confidential agreements, together with copies of passports and other identifying paperwork in the Pandora Papers. This trove of secrets allowed them to identify the names and nationalities of people hidden behind 60 UK firms that were fronted by Luther Denis. The majority were from 10 countries of the former Soviet Union, including one-third from Russia.
The 184 UK firms fronted by Denis included businesses that have developed iPhone and Android phone apps offering services such as VPNs or extra protection against hacks. Other firms were used to help process payments for online casinos, licensed in the Caribbean island of Curaçao. The website of one Denis-fronted firm — hosted on internet servers in Moscow — advertised international grain exports from Russia and Ukraine.
Some of the firms have been linked to alleged large-scale corruption, a fugitive oligarch, and an unlicensed online pharmacy selling prescription medicines.
Shown a summary of these and other findings, Valkovskaya welcomed the information, much of which was unknown to Alpha Consulting and which, she said, had been promptly fed into a suspicious transaction report (STR) sent to the Seychelles government’s Financial Intelligence Unit.
Valkovskaya stressed that Alpha Consulting was not responsible for the actions of UK firms it helped to front. “We try our utmost to report any suspicious activity but we do not have a forensics investigations unit, and can only rely on public records and press investigations.”
In the course of the investigation, Finance Uncovered found many controversial cases. One example among many was Green Line LP, a UK firm fronted by Luther Denis but secretly controlled by a Russian advertising entrepreneur linked to an international network of confidence tricksters, specialising in making bogus claims for herbal remedies. The story of Green Line is the first of three examples we tell in full.
Since 2021, a seemingly miracle heart pill has been advertised on websites, in multiple languages, across France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other European countries.
“Cardiol acts on the cause of the disease by strengthening the vessels and increasing their elasticity,” cardiologist Dr Ralf Bartels was reported as saying, according to the German-language version of the site. “This drug is highly effective in any form of hypertension.”
But when Finance Uncovered contacted Dr Bartels, he said that his identity had been stolen and he was taking legal action. “At no time did I have any contact — by telephone, in writing, by email or in person — with the operators of the homepage or the manufacturers and distributors of this ‘medication’,” he said. “The promises of salvation and claims made in the text are also incorrect and dangerous.”
In languages other than German, replica Cardiol websites attribute the same endorsement to other medical experts, many of whom were made up, as were testimonies from supposedly satisfied Cardiol customers. Even the brand name “Cardiol” was used without the knowledge of the Italian firm that owned the trademark in several countries.
In April of last year, the Czech Republic’s State Institute for Drug Control (SÚKL) added the Czech-language Cardiol site to its blacklist of websites promoting “illegal offers of unapproved preparations”.
In 2021, consumer regulators from Government Office of the Capital City Budapest (BFKH) issued a penalty notice in relation to the Hungarian-language site, finding it failed to name the company selling Cardiol and gave misleading information about the product.
Despite these interventions, the same bogus and illegal claims were still plastered across the internet when this investigation was published.
“The Internet provides considerable anonymity to sellers, so it is not possible to detect and remove all offers,” the Czech regulator SÚKL said, explaining why instead it simply issues public warnings to consumers.
As part of their investigation, Hungarian regulators purchased HUF 12,200 ($41) of pills, and learned that the online retailer was a UK firm called Green Line LP, based at “Unit 111337” inside a one-room office in Bloomsbury, Central London, where hundreds of other shell firms were also registered.
Official paperwork from Companies House, the UK’s corporate registry, shows Green Line was formed in February 2020 with Luther Denis as its general partner. On paper, he remained responsible for managing the firm until he resigned two years later, shortly before the business was wound up.
But confidential side agreements found in the Pandora Papers show how, from the outset, Denis transferred ownership and control of Green Line to Olga Efremova, a Russian advertising entrepreneur, now 64, based in the city of Samara, on the Volga River.
Though her connection to Green Line was hidden, Efremova has been more open about her wider career in advertising, both in Russia and elsewhere. She appears to be an influential figure in the so-called “affiliate marketing” industry, which encourages thousands of tech-savvy entrepreneurs to earn commissions by pushing controversial offers via social media and promotional websites.
Until at least 2019, Efremova was named as the owner of an affiliate marketing network called Leadbit, offering hundreds of products for its affiliates to promote, including Cardiol.
Blogposts on Leadbit’s own website provide tips and tutorials on how affiliates can drive online traffic towards health remedies of “dubious effectiveness, but also without any harm”.
“Naturally, no one will share their successes for real, so invent a hero and, on their behalf, create a story of successfully achieving the goal, thanks to a miraculous remedy,” one blog advises. “The most important thing is to remember and take into account the pains and needs of your audience… Most importantly, hit the pain points.”
Leadbit has hosted several flash parties at the Moscow Affiliate Conference, an annual meeting of thousands of self-employed online advertisers. Past events have included entertainers with dwarfism, topless dancers, DJs and a performing bear.
Before it was dissolved last summer, Green Line was also used to sell products such as Alkotox for alcoholism, Hondrostrong Plus for arthritis, Optimove for joints mobility and Nanovein Forte for healthy veins.
Reporters attempted to contact Efremova but were unsuccessful. Luther Denis declined to respond to specific questions about Green Line and Valkovsakaya said Alpha Consulting knew nothing of the firms’ activities as detailed by reporters.
From behind this nondescript office door in the Seychelles, Alpha Consulting designed confidential fronts for end clients
A loophole made in Britain
Five years ago, the British government took bold steps to address the ballooning popularity of anonymously-controlled UK firms, particularly among shady business figures and criminals in the former Soviet Union.
Then prime minister David Cameron introduced a new public register recording the ultimate owners of companies. His reforms forced most UK firms — though not all — to name those individuals who controlled more than 25 percent of the business or were otherwise able to exert similar control.
Most business owners who operated their companies indirectly, through nominees or holding companies, could no longer hide from public view. Cameron’s new rules required that their names appear on the register as “persons with significant control” (PSCs).
“Shining that light of transparency is the single most powerful weapon that we have to stop organised criminal activity and global corruption from washing through this country,” explained Graham Barrow, a leading UK anti money laundering expert who has advised multinational banks on combating dirty money. “Criminals will always try and hide.”
But the UK’s transparency rules do not apply to all businesses. In particular, limited partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are exempt.
These represent only a tiny fraction of the 5 million businesses registered in Britain. Companies House says it does not know how many of these limited partnerships are active, but has estimated it could be about 8,700 across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
These firms submit very minimal information to Companies House and, unlike regular limited companies, are not required to publish annual financial statements.
Last year, Finance Uncovered and the BBC exposed how a handful of company formation agencies, all catering to Russian-speaking clients, had seized upon this loophole, exploiting it on a vast scale.
Even US-sanctioned oligarchs Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, close allies of Russian president Vladimir Putin, were found to be using these exempt UK firms. In a brazen move, the brothers allegedly used an English limited partnership to pay a front figure in the art industry who allegedly helped them get around the sanctions, buying and selling paintings worth millions of dollars in New York auction houses.
Reporters revealed how the loophole became hugely popular in 2017, when the UK government closed down other loopholes used to create anonymous shell firms.
“There is always a way out.” said one Russian language newsletter circulated in May 2017 among agencies that specialised in UK corporate secrecy, including Alpha Consulting.
The newsletter, a copy of which was found in the Pandora Papers, explained that limited partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland “do not fall and will not fall under the laws on the disclosure of information about controlling persons.”
Today investigations by Finance Uncovered, the BBC and SBC, reveal the enormous enabling role that Alpha Consulting played since 2017, helping corporate secrecy to survive and thrive in the darkest, most unscrutinised corners of the UK corporate register.
Analysis of Companies House data shows the number of new limited partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2017 doubled to more than 1,400. Among them were 151 firms registered by nominees linked to Alpha Consulting.
And in the six years since, Alpha Consulting has remained busy, helping provide fronts for a total of 832 limited partnerships. All these firms were controlled by hidden owners, and many are still active today.
To put the work of nominees linked to Alpha Consulting in context, they helped set up one in five of all limited partnerships registered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the last six years.
A new law, an opportunity missed
Margaret Hodge, a Labour Party politician in the UK and a long-time anti-corruption campaigner, pointed to Finance Uncovered’s reporting on limited partnerships during a parliamentary debate last November. She called on the government to close the loophole by making sure such firms were no longer exempt from the UK’s ownership transparency laws.
Her proposal might have seemed a logical move. Indeed, parliament was already debating the government’s Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency bill, described as the “biggest upgrade in 170 years” for Companies House. The bill, ministers promised days after Russia’s wholesale invasion of Ukraine, would “bear down on the use of limited partnerships as vehicles for facilitating international money laundering — including illicit Russian finance.”
But Hodge’s proposal was rejected.
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake said extending existing transparency laws to cover all limited partnerships was not possible because of an important legal distinction. Unlike partnerships in Scotland, those registered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland do not possess “legal personality”.
That means they function more like an agreement between parties than as a legal entity, he said. And without legal personality, the minister told parliament, a UK firm could not have any “owners” at all.
Elspeth Berry, associate professor of law at Nottingham Trent University and a leading expert on partnership law, does not agree. “I think it’s complete nonsense,” she said. “All firms are controlled by someone. It doesn't matter whether they have separate legal personality or not… We all know it exists — in the sense that it's a collection of people acting together in a business — and that can be controlled by those people or others.”
Berry noted that other jurisdictions, including Ireland and Gibraltar, had passed laws requiring firms with no legal personality to give the names of their ultimate owners. Extending the UK’s existing transparency laws could be done at a stroke, she believes.
Susan Kramer, a Treasury spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat party, agreed. “To me, it's a shock that the government hasn't used the opportunity of this economic crime bill to close down every loophole of which it is aware – and it certainly is aware of this one.”
But by Hollinrake’s account, a lack of legal personality not only stopped limited partnerships being owned or controlled, it also prevents them from carrying out the most basic business activities, such as holding a bank account, agreeing a contract or owning property.
He told parliament: “Not having legal personality means that limited partnerships cannot own property or assets in their own name; any assets are held in the name of the partners themselves”
While the legal relationship between a partnership and property is arcane and intricate, in the commercial world matters are more straightforward
Consider the case of Mister Drake PC, the second of our three case studies, and another firm fronted by Luther Denis. It was able to register as the owner of an oil tanker.
The wind was up one November night on the Black Sea in 2019, when the Delfi, a 60-metre long, ageing oil tanker drifted on its anchor into Ukrainian waters, according to an official investigation later commissioned by the State Maritime Service of Ukraine.
Next morning, the coast guard made contact and the captain explained he did not have enough diesel to power up the tanker’s engines and correct course. But he refused assistance, saying that the ship’s owner had other rescue plans.
Over the three weeks that followed, coastguards learned more and more about the shambolic state of the 45-year-old vessel until, eventually, after the owner’s rescue efforts failed, bad weather blew the Delfi onto the Dolphin tourist beach near Odesa. Keeling onto its starboard side the tanker began to spill what little oil it had into the shallows.
The Delfi’s captain later pleaded guilty to recklessly disregarding navigation laws and refusing assistance. He was given a one-year sentence in an open prison, suspended.
But no charges have been brought against anyone associated with the tanker's owner, a UK-registered firm called Mister Drake PC.
The capsized Delfi belonged to a UK-registered firm with a hidden owner
Like Green Line LP, it was a limited partnership that, under UK law, was not required to disclose the name of its ultimate owner — as was first noted by the investigative website Open Democracy.
In the weeks leading up to the Delfi’s demise in 2019, coast guards learned there were just three crew members aboard the Delfi — a vessel that required at least five to operate safely. And when coast guard inspectors came aboard, they discovered fuel and water were desperately low, sanitary and cargo certificates were missing, the radar inoperable and the starboard anchor lost.
The Delfi, they later reported, had been anchored at sea for six months.
Four days after the inspection, as the weather worsened, the Delfi’s captain finally sent out a “Mayday” signal. Despite dire circumstances, neither he nor Mister Drake would allow the Ukrainian coast guard to arrange assistance from one of the rescue tugs now circling.
Instead, Mister Drake sent another tug. But this rescue effort failed when the tow line broke free and was left flailing dangerously in the water, still attached to the powerless vessel. The Delfi’s crew refused to wind the line in because the ship was rolling dangerously in bad weather and lights on the Delfi had gone out.
Beyond help, the ship drifted again and was blown onto the shoreline, by the Dolphin tourist beach, near Odesa, on November 22. The crew were rescued unhurt.
According to the somewhat chaotic filings for Mister Drake at UK Companies House, Luther Denis was the firm’s general partner from its formation in February 2018 up to his resignation in March 2019.
During that spell, Mister Drake bought the Delfi, even though, two months earlier, the vessel had lost its certificate of seaworthiness. Shortly afterwards the purchase, the Moldovan shipping officials kicked the Delfi from the country’s register — known as “de-flagging” — leaving the tanker stateless.
Denis declined to address specific points concerning the Delfi, but leaked documents suggested that he took no interest in the firm's affairs.
This is because, on the day Mister Drake PC was formed, Alpha Consulting had already prepared a familiar bundle of side agreements for Denis, allowing him to sign away control of the firm.
These documents, again found in the Pandora Papers, transferred control to Mister Drake’s hidden owner, a Ukrainian woman, now 67, called Alla Kovtunova. Kovtunova is the mother and business partner of shipping entrepreneur Oleg Kovtunov, a former politician for Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin Party of Regions.
A spokesperson for Kovtunova, who did not give their name, confirmed by email that Mister Drake had bought the Delfi in 2018, but said the tanker had immediately been chartered by another firm, which was responsible for keeping the vessel seaworthy, well-supplied and properly crewed.
The spokesperson accused Ukrainian authorities of failing to offer enough assistance before the Delfi was wrecked and of sabotaging efforts to salvage the vessel. “In our country, it is very difficult to defend one's legal position in court when government tries to engage in corrupt schemes, is interested in pre-election PR, and in every possible way delays the consideration of our proposals.”
After a long legal battle, the Ukrainian courts ordered Mister Drake to pay UAH 7.6 million (almost $210,000) to Odesa City Council and a further UAH 2.7 million ($100,000) to Ukraine’s Sea Ports Authority to cover clean up and salvage costs. Journalists were unable to establish whether these payments were ever made, but Companies House records state that the British firm was dissolved long ago.
Asked if Mister Drake had made compensation payments for clean up and salvage costs, as ordered by the courts, the spokesperson did not reply.
Valkovskaya said Alpha Consulting had been unaware of events leading up to the wrecking of the Delfi but added: “There are no restrictions in the UK on limited partnerships owning vessels and it is standard practice for them to do so.”
Indeed, Finance Uncovered also found several other ships, from tugs boats to tankers, currently registered to anonymous UK firms fronted by nominees linked to Alpha Consulting. They include at least one oil tanker owned by a limited partnership set up and, on paper, run by Luther Denis.
The Seychelles government reacted angrily last month when the European Union added the country to its blacklist of tax and secrecy havens, along with Belize and Antigua. Being on this list is more than just a public shaming: it can discourage foreign investment and damage a country’s international relations.
Finance minister Naadir Hassan led the complaints. He accused the EU of punishing the Seychelles unfairly because it had struggled to deal with an unexpected flood of inquiries from overseas tax inspectors in the wake of the 2016 Panama Papers scandal, a high-profile leak of confidential offshore files obtained by investigative journalists.
This surge in inquiries was made especially challenging after the 2018 closure of Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the heart of the scandal. Staff at its Seychelles offices left the country, taking all records with them, Hassan explained.
“It is inexcusable that historic deficiencies, which have been fully remedied, should continue to have such a significant impact,” he said.
But when journalists at SBC shared their latest findings with Randolf Samson, chief executive of the Seychelles Financial Services Authority, he conceded there was still work required to repair the reputation of the offshore industry.
Asked about Seychelles citizens fronting large numbers of UK firms, Samson warned: “The Seychellois need to understand whatever is put in front of them, particularly when it comes with remuneration.”
He said the FSA had already dealt with cases in which unqualified people such as drivers and cleaners had signed documents not knowing their significance. “We’ve had to take strong enforcement action,” he said “It’s not fair on those people because, generally, they don’t understand what they are doing… My message to everyone in the Seychelles who is being approached is that they need to think very, very, very carefully about it.”
Valkovskaya told reporters that Alpha Consulting provided all nominees with “clear and comprehensive information regarding their roles, responsibilities and associated risks.” She said nominees were also indemnified by the agency’s clients.
Last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted a surge in the number of high-impact sanctions issued by the United States, the European Union and other powerful bodies. With these threats, however, have also come lucrative opportunities for unscrupulous actors. In fact, a large number of the world’s ageing oil tankers have now turned their attention to the high risk, high reward business of shipping sanctioned oil from countries such as Iran, Venezuela and more recently Russia.
Lloyd’s List, the shipping news and data provider, believes a “dark fleet” of more than 450 large, ageing tankers — representing 10 percent of the internationally trading fleet — are now known to move oil to or from sanctioned countries, deploying a myriad of evasive schemes in an effort to hide their movements and the identities of those involved.
One of the warning signs Lloyd’s List analysts look for is the use of anonymous shell firms to own or manage a tanker.
One such anonymous firm is Cilkon PC, another UK limited partnership set up and fronted by Luther Denis on behalf of a hidden owner. It is the third of our three case studies.
In February 2021, less than a month after Russian shipping firm Rustanker LLC was put on the US sanctions list for helping bust America’s ban on lifting oil from Venezuelan ports, there was a flurry of changes aboard the Nostras, a 150-metre-long tanker that Rustanker helped manage — and which, at the time, was sailing near Venezuelan waters.
In a hasty makeover, the Nostras dropped the first and last letters of its name, becoming the “Ostra”. The ship’s Russian flag came down, replaced by the flag of Cameroon. And Rustanker stepped back from carrying out important regulatory roles on board relating to safety and maintenance.
Instead, these roles, known in shipping jargon as “technical manager” and “ISM manager”, were assigned to an opaque firm called Cilkon PC, newly registered just five months earlier.
Cilkon’s general partner was Luther Denis. And like all limited partnerships registered in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, it has never had to name its ultimate owner.
While the hidden owners of heart pill seller Green Line and of ship owner Mister Drake were revealed in the Pandora Papers, that was not the case with Cilkon.
Reporters nevertheless studied the voyage history of the Ostra for the year and a half during which Denis fronted Cilkon. At first glance, the data showed the ship shuttling around the Caribbean, sometimes skirting close to Venezuela.
But on closer inspection, there were peculiarities.
The first concerned large gaps in data transmitted from the Ostra. For two long spells — one of 98 days and another of 20 days — its location signal “went dark”. On both occasions, the ship disappeared from the record only to reappear, weeks or months later, in almost exactly the same spot. Both times, the vanishing act took place between the island of Aruba and the nearby Venezuelan coast.
The second oddity was that the Ostra’s passage at times looked implausibly perfect. For months at a time, the data suggested the ship was travelling at a perfectly steady speed of just one knot.
Michelle Wiese Bockmann, senior analyst at Lloyd’s List Intelligence, said this was clear evidence of “spoofing”, the term used to describe a vessel sending out false location data. “It's exactly even. And there are large tranches where everything is like that,” she said. “Ships just don't do that.”
In 2020, the US Treasury officials warned that “spoofing” and “going dark” were tactics increasingly used by ships avoiding sanctions. They also warned that sanction-dodgers often switched oil loads between vessels while at sea in an attempt to avoid detection.
On this point too, a study of the Ostra’s movements raised concern. With the help of Geollect, a firm specialising in geolocation, journalists found data suggesting that, on December 20 2021, the Ostra and a larger tanker called the Orion were positioned alongside each other, in waters between Aruba and Venezuela. In the halflight just before dawn, it would have been hard to capture the two ships together on satellite photos, but they were detectable on alternative imaging technology using radar.
Location signal data here shows the Orion and Ostra meeting in waters near the Venezuela (Source Geollect’s Geonius platform). This is confirmed, right, by satellite radar imaging (Source: Sentinel 1 satellite)
Two days later, location data for the Orion also showed signs of spoofing. For 54 days its local signal came from exactly the same spot, again in between Aruba and Venezuela. This was strong evidence of spoofing, analysts at Geollect said.
Finance Uncovered tried to contact the owners of both the Ostra and the Orion, both of which are companies registered in the Marshall Islands, but received no response.
When Denis was asked about the Ostra’s suspicious movements while he was in charge of Cilkon PC, the ship’s technical and ISM manager but he did not respond. Meanwhile, Denis’s boss Valkovskaya said: “We are not aware of any of your claimed activities in relation to this company.”
The Ostra has been through several makeovers in its 21 years at sea. In the last seven years it has switched its name and flag three times. And in 2019, the US Treasury Department accused the vessel — then called the Sincero — of helping transport oil to the sanctioned Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
Taking care of business
As Denis goes about his life on Mahe, the main island in the Seychelles, the far away actions and consequences of the many UK firms that bear his name are rarely in his thoughts. He considered it perfectly ordinary for Alpha Consulting’s end clients to want to hide their identity.
“Picture this: tomorrow I become a millionaire and I do not want people to know I own a company,” he explains. “So I will get somebody to front it so that people do not know that I own the company. It does not mean that I am doing something wrong. Some people just want to be discreet.”
There were a few occasions when he wanted to know more about businesses using his name. “Sometimes I asked Alpha questions,” he recalled. “They always told me it would be ok.”
With these assurances, he has been happy to sign documents for more than six years and has got to know other Seychellois who do the same. “There are around 10 to 12 people. We talk. For us this is something totally normal. We are used to doing it.”
“Being a nominee … is a normal service which offshore companies provide.” he said. “I am a general partner but I do not know what is happening.”
* Editing: Ted Jeory and Nick Mathiason
* Fact check: Richard Smith
* Main image: Eden Island, Seychelles (Shutterstock)