Group denies links to Panamanian Jurisdiction

The ITS site in St George's Bay where the db Group will be building a hotel.

A company that forms part of the DB Group is being investigated by the local tax authorities as part of the Panama Papers probe, the Times of Malta is informed.

Senior government sources said the subsidiary – Evergreen Travel Ltd – registered in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven, was being investigated by the Inland Revenue Department, the Tax Compliance Unit and the Financial Intelligence Analyses Unit.

“All companies and individuals that were outed in the Panama Papers are being investigated for possible tax evasion,” a senior government official said.

“We can confirm we have been looking into Evergreen Ltd for a number of months and are still trying to establish the facts. So far, we are just investigating and asking for further information,” the official said.

So far, we are just investigating and asking for further information
 Asked whether Evergreen was being investigated by the taxman, a spokesman for the DB Group declined to comment, citing “commercial reasons”.

Established in 2001 in the British Virgin Islands through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the company is included in the latest published accounts of the DB Group deposited with the Malta Financial Services Authority. However, no details were given on its business activities or its financial results.

Asked to state the purpose of this financial vehicle in the British Virgin Islands and to provide a copy of the company’s accounts for the last three years, the DB Group spokesman replied: “Evergreen Travel Ltd is a fully owned subsidiary of one of the DB Group entities. As such, its financials are fully consolidated and disclosed in the Malta-based company.”

According to its accounts, the DB Group ended the year 2015 with a profit of almost €7 million and had outstanding loans of over €80 million.

The group is currently at the centre of a controversy over the purchase of the former ITS site in Pembroke. The group intends to develop the area into a hotel, a shopping mall and about 200 residential units for resale.

The deal with the government is now expected to be investigated by the National Audit Office following pressure from the Nationalist Party.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, who before entering into politics sat on one of the boards within the DB Group, confirmed that his ministry was investigating claims of collusion between a top Inland Revenue Department official and DB Group chairman Silvio Debono.

Media reports said Ivan Portelli, a former police officer who is now administration director at the Inland Revenue Department, accompanied Mr Debono on a private trip a few weeks ago. Contacted about this report and whether Mr Portelli had been Mr Debono’s guest, the DB Group spokesman said: “These are private matters, and we decline the offer to comment on them”.

Group denies links to Panama

In a statement this morning, DB Group CEO Arthur Gauci denied any links to the Panamanian jurisdiction either in the form of funds/bank accounts or any entity being set up there. No such links exist, or have ever, existed to the group, either directly or through beneficial ownership.

Evergreen Travel Limited was set up in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to act as the sales company for vacation ownership packages to tourists interested in booking holidays for a pre-determined number of years against an upfront payment, the group said.

For this purpose, an organisational structure was put into place, mirroring the generally accepted norm for operators involved in this type of business both locally and overseas.

“Our point of contact on the matter has always been First National Trust Company (FNTC). It transpires that in registering such an interest, the services of Mossack Fonseca & Co (BVI) Ltd were used by FNTC and hence this is presumably the reason why the company’s name surfaced in the Panama leaks.”

Mr Gauci said the financials of Evergreen Travel Limited are fully consolidated in the DB Group books and therefore all income is disclosed to the local tax authorities.

Posted on: 15th May 2017