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Adventures in Paradise… A trip to Bermuda draws an odd call from the government

December 12, 2017 - Author: bdadmin

by Will Fitzgibbon | source

Will found taxi drivers were proud promoters of Bermuda’s offshore industry.

Will found taxi drivers were proud promoters of Bermuda’s offshore industry.

Having said cheerio a few days earlier to Bermuda and its sparkling pink beaches, immaculate streets, potent rum Swizzle cocktails, colorful shorts and dark kneesocks, I was back at my grey desk in Washington grinding through some incorporation records and bank statements when the phone rang.

Bermuda’s Department of Immigration calling.

“Someone” had handed over my business card, an agent said by way of explanation for the call.

What was the purpose of my recent trip to Bermuda? an agent asked, more or less out of nowhere. What had I done in there?

A bit of a swim, I replied. A little tourism. Some…research. In a flash, the call was over.

“Well, that felt like a warning,” I decided after hanging up.

The unexpected phone call was one of the odder moments in reporting on the Paradise Papers, an investigation into the offshore financial secrets of politicians, moguls, and some of the world’s most profitable companies.

A large chunk of the 13.4 million files that make up the Paradise Papers came from Appleby, a global offshore firm founded in Bermuda.

Understanding Appleby, one of the world’s most prestigious offshore legal advisors, would be key, I thought, to understanding the offshore sector, which has drawn increasing attention from governments, asset recovery lawyers, activists, and average Joes and Janes.

I had spent the previous 10 months at my desk in ICIJ’s Farragut Square offices reading spreadsheets, bank statements, emails and other documents.

In doing so, I had learned a lot about Appleby and where it fit into this global system of secrecy and tax avoidance: how much money it made (more than $100 million a year), how it fought off lawsuits (“hope that the plaintiffs could run out of gas,” lawyers discussed in one case), and how it interacted with government officials (a former BVI minister, while accusing the firm of hiring foreigners over BVI citizens, once told an Appleby lawyer to “Go home tonight and be a human!”).

But obviously there was a lot I didn’t know, and I thought a trip to Appleby’s office and one of the islands it calls home could help. Old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, we call it (or, in this case, perhaps “sandal-rubber reporting”). Anything could be valuable, from speaking to locals to seeing where the rich and the other half, including the (few) homeless, live.

Once on the ground in Bermuda, it didn’t take long to realize how small the island’s financial beating heart was.
Will Fitzgibbon

Visiting a place can be a reminder for journalists that what we are writing about is real, that the people are just not names and addresses on an invoice. It puts abstract matters into sharper focus.

For months, for example, I had been reading up on the Bermuda office of Glencore Plc, the Anglo-Swiss commodities trading giant. A major Appleby client, Glencore for years had used a small office space within the law firm’s premises. The “Glencore Room,” Appleby employees called it.

I knew from the Paradise Papers that Glencore’s Bermuda companies were behind some mind-bogglingly large transactions. Multi-billion dollar loans passed through the Bermuda room — at least on paper.
The profile of Major Appleby found in the local library.
Reginald Woodifield founded Appleby

In reality, I had learned from Appleby’s files that no full-time Glencore employee worked there and the room rarely housed more than a checkbook, a fax machine and a computer server that occasionally broke down. This was a purported nerve center one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. I ached to see what the room actually looked like.

The trip was coordinated with reporting teams from Japan, Australia, Denmark and the U.S. and took weeks of planning over email, the secure messaging service Signal, and ICIJ’s collaboration space, known as Global I-Hub. All of us planned to converge on the island at the same time for extra digging and to meet Appleby if we could.

After a six-hour flight from Washington through New York, I arrived at the airport to meet the team from Vice News Tonight on HBO. Vice had been following ICIJ and the “making of” the Paradise Papers for months.

Once on the ground in Bermuda, it didn’t take long to realize how small the island’s financial beating heart was.

Appleby’s office, for example, is a few doors down from the Bermuda Monetary Authority, the regulator that had fined the firm’s subsidiary in a 2015 confidential settlement for failing compliance tests.

No organization thrills at the idea of an unplanned visit by 20 journalists. Especially not a law firm that sells discretion and confidentiality.

During the day, reporters scoured the island for interviews with locals, experts, politicians past and present in an effort to get a feel for the place. Australian reporters spoke with Jamaican restaurant cooks about Bermuda’s high cost of living. Japanese reporters zigzagged across main thoroughfares, stopping pedestrians to canvass Bermudians on their views, if any, on the offshore financial industry in their midst.

In search of more information on Major Reginald Appleby, the law firm’s founder, I made my way to Bermuda’s National Archives and dug through 60-year old newspaper clippings and parliamentary debates.

Eventually, a helpful librarian at Bermuda’s National Library tracked down a colorful profile and photo portrait of the major. Another reminder that in journalism, as in many things, librarians can be your best friend.

Locals were uniformly among some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. Taxi drivers were eloquent and proud promoters of the island’s offshore industry. That said, the fares cost a small fortune.

One evening, all the journalists who weren’t filming Bermudian sunsets for their Paradise Papers documentaries gathered in my hotel room to plan the next day.

The main topic: how to approach Appleby in the most professional manner possible and with the greatest chance of being granted an interview.

No organization thrills at the idea of an unplanned visit by 20 journalists. Especially not a law firm that sells discretion and confidentiality. But our job as journalists is to seek answers and to offer as many chances as possible for a response.

The Appleby receptionist, a true Bermudian, was polite and helpful. “Take a seat,” she said. I think the day we arrived was her birthday. Balloons bobbed by her desk.

We saw the visit as an opportunity for Appleby and ICIJ to have a conversation. It had been nearly two weeks since ICIJ sent our first list of questions to the company. We knew that our questions had been received but had received no word on whether the company would grant an on-camera interview. As we waited, we wondered what was happening in the offices above our heads.

After 30 minutes or so on the couch, Appleby dispatched an employee from the facilities department. Blood-orange red Bermuda shorts and all.

He wouldn’t give his name, answer questions or accept a letter with some questions for Appleby’s attention.

He did, however, thank me for my business card.

No Comments - Categories: Bermuda Business, Bermuda Crime, Bermuda Employment, Bermuda EU, Bermuda Government, Bermuda News, Bermuda Politics, Bermuda Travel

Protesters force closure of Bermuda’s House of Assembly

March 15, 2016 - Author: bdadmin

HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) — Bermuda’s House of Assembly remained closed yesterday after legislators were locked out by protesters who formed a human ring around the building in a continuing protest against government’s proposed Pathways to Status initiative.

Premier of Bermuda, Michael Dunkley.

Premier of Bermuda, Michael Dunkley.

Politicians were due to debate the controversial bill but an estimated 1,500 protesters, who stayed in the House grounds all day, demanded the status bill be withdrawn. At 6.15 pm yesterday the Rev Nicholas Tweed, spokesman for pressure group the People’s Campaign, announced that the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) Cabinet had ‘gone home’.

He said that the Speaker of the House, Randy Horton, had said the House would reconvene on Wednesday but Tweed told protesters it did not mean they had won their fight.

“We have decided to return tomorrow (today). You have decided to return tomorrow. There’s one condition. We [will] double [or] triple the number,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from the Government.

Among the protesters was Enda Matthie, who has been on hunger strike for seven days.

Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert told the crowd, “This is not a labour issue this is a national issue.

“All we are asking for is what is just and fair. The country needs to see the bigger picture.”

Furbert said a government offer — which he did not elaborate on — had been received but rejected.

He admitted protesters were walking a thin line, but added that it was in everyone’s interest to resolve the matter.

“Let’s be patient,” he said, calling Bermuda “the laughing stock of the world right now”.

Earlier, the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce weighed in on Pathways to Status, saying it supports the legislation.

However, Chamber President John Wight said “simultaneous” efforts must also be made to address the social needs of the community.

“With the Chamber’s mission being to ‘cultivate the best environment in which all businesses can prosper’, the executive board of the Chamber of Commerce supports the concept of the proposed immigration reform legislation but stresses that there must be simultaneous measures taken to address the social needs of the community to ensure its success for all sectors of Bermuda,” Wight stated.

He added that the private sector group believes getting Bermuda’s economy and community “back on track should be the focus of our collective efforts”.

The legislation, which Wight described as a “very critical issue for all of Bermuda”, has been introduced to provide more permanence to guest workers who have met minimum threshold limits of residency in Bermuda.

“We are very sensitive to the emotion in our community over this issue.There are many struggling businesses and unemployed persons who, through no fault of their own, are barely surviving and are having difficulty supporting themselves and their families.

“We also recognise that there are deep-rooted feelings, based on historic amendments to immigration policies that have adversely impacted certain segments of our community,” Wight said.

While Wight said that it may “understandably be illogical to feel that the proposed legislation will improve the situation”, the reality is that with an ageing population and “more people drawing upon the Government’s bank account than paying into it, Bermuda must increase the numbers of people contributing to the system through increased employment and population expansion”.

More people working and living on island equates to more economic activity, he added.

“We have been very clear and consistent in our message; Chamber members, who represent all sectors of the business community, small, medium, and large, need more people in Bermuda to sell their goods and services to. Several of our members have been struggling for many years.

“The only way for these companies to measurably improve their economic circumstances is to generate more volume of sales, which can only occur if we have more people in Bermuda.

“The discussion, therefore, should not be ‘if’ Bermuda needs more residents. The discussion needs to be around how do we address the real and current needs in the community, increase the numbers of residents, benefit our economy and ensure the economic success of both current and new residents.

“In addition, one part of the solution we believe, has to be to attract many of those Bermudians who have left, to come back home and to prosper in a growing economy.”

Government wants to usher in the Bermuda Immigration and Protection Amendment Act 2016 that would open the door for long-term guest workers to gain permanent residency after 15 years and Bermuda status (citizenship) after 20 years but the plan has split the country.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy has said amending the 1956 Immigration Act would bring Bermuda in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, generate revenue and help to address the decreasing work population.

Even though Bermuda has emerged from six years of recession the island is struggling to improve its fragile economy.

Meanwhile, Premier Michael Dunkley has revealed that civil servants took almost 38,665 sick days in the 2015/16 fiscal year at a cost of $10.6 million to the Government.

source:  jamaicaobserver.com

No Comments - Categories: Bermuda Business, Bermuda Employment, Bermuda Government, Bermuda News, Bermuda Politics