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  • ELISE WORTHINGTON: This is a story about a parallel universe,

  • where the super rich

  • hide eye-watering amounts of money around the world.

  • GERARD RYLE: We're talking about presidents,

  • we're talking about prime ministers,

  • we're talking about rock stars, we're talking about porn stars

  • and people that have been convicted of crimes all over the world.

  • Their methods are usually highly guarded secrets.

  • But, hidden in an elaborate paper-trail,

  • they're now exposed for all to see.

  • ANTHONY WATSON: It's a shell game.

  • They hide the assets, they hide the income,

  • they hide the real beneficial owners.

  • To unscramble these incredible structures that you find,

  • it takes a really long time.

  • The keepers of these secrets are lawyers and accountants,

  • who work through a global network of trusts and shell companies

  • based in tax havens around the world.

  • LAKSHMI KUMAR: Without checks, gatekeepers have carte blanche

  • and are able to ride roughshod over the financial landscape

  • with no questions really asked and no accountability.

  • They pay the fine, and then it's just business as usual.

  • JOHN CHEVIS: I think some of the best money's to be made

  • if you're willing to turn a blind eye to who you're dealing with

  • and where their money might've come from.

  • I think there's very good money to be made, sadly.

  • DEBRA LAPREVOTTE: You have a handful of people

  • who loot the resources of a country.

  • Imagine the good that could have been done with $5 billion.

  • The roads, the infrastructure, schools, medicine,

  • education, healthcare.

  • All of that could've been

  • and all of that was taken away by a handful of people.

  • The private fortunes of the rich, famous and sometimes infamous

  • are concealed through lucrative financial holdings

  • and expensive real estate,

  • and Australia has become a prime destination

  • for them to stash their cash.

  • PETER WHISH-WILSON: I think the outrage

  • that would be expressed by Australians

  • if they knew that corrupt money

  • was buying their local jewels in the crown

  • and competing against locals at auctions,

  • I think they'd be furious about that.

  • NATHAN LYNCH: In real terms, that means that your children or yourself

  • might be going to buy a property,

  • and, when they're at auction,

  • there could be a person there in a suit

  • looking very, very sharp and legitimate,

  • but they could be a proxy

  • acting for a foreign kleptocrat or a politically exposed person.

  • Tonight on Four Corners

  • we investigate how politicians, criminals and the super-wealthy

  • move millions through a parallel economy

  • open only to those who can afford it.

  • And we reveal how an Australian accountant made a fortune

  • helping high-risk clients keep their riches away from prying eyes.

  • Our investigation begins in Singapore.

  • This glittering island financial hub

  • is an ideal place to set up complex business structures.

  • PETER WHISH-WILSON: Their corporate tax rate of 17%

  • has always been traditionally much lower

  • than other foreign jurisdictions.

  • So, that's attractive to companies

  • that want to go set up business there and pay less tax.

  • And, of course, if you're going to go to the effort

  • of setting up a headquarter in a country like Singapore

  • and you're a big multinational firm

  • and you're involved in profit-shifting activities

  • and a whole range of other things

  • that are certainly immoral and unethical,

  • then what you're going to also demand from the Singapore government

  • is layers of regulations to hide your identity and what you're doing.

  • It's actually a recipe for setting themselves up for scandal.

  • For the last 40 years

  • Singapore has been home to a little-known business

  • run by an Australian accountant named Graeme Briggs.

  • He set up his company, Asiaciti, here in the 1980s.

  • (ELEVATOR DOOR DINGS)

  • Today, it's a global business with clients on every continent.

  • GERARD RYLE: It's one of the largest offshore service providers

  • in the world.

  • And it's actually run by an Australian man.

  • They have all sorts of legitimate clients,

  • big banking, big banks,

  • big accountancy firms.

  • Asiaciti essentially sets up offshore companies

  • for people who want privacy.

  • Asiaciti is part of a growing industry

  • of professional wealth managers

  • helping the super rich manage their cash.

  • LAKSHMI KUMAR: It's lawyers, accountants, investment advisors.

  • You know, so, anyone that helps with the private equity,

  • venture-capital fund, real-estate agents.

  • All of them are gatekeepers.

  • And when we use the term 'gatekeepers', it really...

  • ..is these are the individuals

  • that are meant to guard the financial system,

  • because they have the expertise,

  • they have the know-how to navigate the nitty-gritties

  • of what is otherwise a very complex system to navigate.

  • What we've found when we've looked into it

  • is that individual entities

  • that are providing these services,

  • for them in isolation

  • it's hugely profitable.

  • So, you know, there's the ongoing advice.

  • There's the fees of setting up these structures.

  • There's a trailing revenue model

  • because you're continually managing these structures.

  • So, for those individual businesses that are active in this space,

  • it's hugely profitable.

  • Asiaciti prides itself on trust and discretion,

  • keeping the confidential information of its high-profile clients secret.

  • Now an anonymous source has leaked millions of internal documents

  • from Asiaciti and 13 other offshore providers

  • to media around the world

  • through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

  • GERARD RYLE: It's interesting that we're seeing

  • somebody who no-one's ever heard of.

  • You're talking about Graeme Briggs -

  • an accountant, somebody who's gone to Singapore, built a business,

  • and now he's centre of what will be, I think,

  • a political storm around the world.

  • Graeme Briggs is a 75-year-old grandfather

  • with a taste for the finer things in life.

  • He owns a multimillion-dollar mansion

  • on a vineyard in the Mornington Peninsula.

  • Graham lives in Victoria. He collects art.

  • He likes fine wine, particularly Italian wine.

  • He also collects Japanese fountain pens.

  • So, he's somebody with expensive tastes.

  • But he also mixes with people from all over the world,

  • very wealthy, important clients,

  • but also some people who are very high public figures.

  • The leak reveals Graeme Briggs

  • amassed a $62-million fortune

  • that includes more than $10 million in real estate,

  • a $4-million rare-pen collection

  • and $400,000-worth of fine wine.

  • Like the fortunes of those he's managed,

  • much of Graeme Briggs's wealth

  • is held through a complex offshore company and trust structure.

  • One of the trends that's emerging

  • in the documents in the Pandora Papers

  • is the fact that this offshore world lobbies behind the scenes,

  • it lobbies governments to allow the offshore world to take place.

  • So, Graham was particularly involved in turning Samoa into a tax haven.

  • The island nation of Samoa is a tiny speck in the ocean

  • halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii.

  • Graeme Briggs was one of the first to realise Samoa's potential

  • over two decades ago.

  • He spruiked himself as an expert consultant to the government

  • on offshore finance.

  • He set up an Asiaciti office in the nation's capital,

  • just down the road from the regulator.

  • TO'OTO'OLEAAVA DR FANAAFI AIONO: He was one of the first

  • to bring that type of business here to Samoa.

  • And I understand that he did have a say

  • in advising on the original legislation.

  • I've met him once.

  • In fact, I met him during one of the reviews of Samoa

  • in accordance with the Asia Pacific Group on anti-money laundering.

  • One of their reviews of Samoa back in 2014,

  • that was when I first met Mr Graeme Briggs.

  • He seems very personable.

  • He's not very tall.

  • Short, curly hair. Grey. Aussie. (LAUGHS)

  • It may not look like a global finance hub,

  • but there's tens of thousands of international companies based here -

  • one for every three residents.

  • The genesis was...

  • ..I think it was trying to find other sources of income

  • that were legitimate and legal

  • for a small island nation with very limited natural resources.

  • That's basically the genesis of it.

  • It's a tax haven that's been criticised

  • for its lack of transparency

  • and has been blacklisted by the European Union since 2017.

  • In the good old days, when it was a bit more Wild West, so to speak,

  • there was no regulation around,

  • and, so, it was easier to incorporate a company,

  • and, as such, the risks for things going wrong

  • and things being used for untoward purposes

  • was probably higher in the early years of the industry.

  • ANTHONY WATSON: It's a tax haven,

  • which means it doesn't impose tax on a lot of income

  • earned by people in that jurisdiction.

  • And it was very popular for Australians because

  • before we had a regime which taxed people on their foreign income

  • if earned through a foreign entity.

  • So, if I put a foreign company in Samoa,

  • and that foreign company earned income outside Samoa,

  • it wasn't taxed in Samoa AND it wasn't taxed in Australia.

  • Hence the benefit of having a tax haven in the middle.

  • For those who consider these sorts of arrangements,

  • they're not clever or sexy or harmless.

  • I think the victims when people don't pay tax

  • is everyday Australians,

  • the millions of taxpayers

  • who do the right thing, who declare their income,

  • pay their employees and have fair competition against other business.

  • The leaked documents show Asiaciti kept a confidential list

  • of its highest-risk clients, known as PEPs.

  • JOHN CHEVIS: So, PEP is as an acronym

  • for Politically Exposed Persons,

  • and it's referring to people who held senior government positions.

  • They may be politicians, they may be heads of state-owned enterprises

  • or heads of government departments.

  • And they may be foreign or domestic.

  • The reason they are singled out and considered high-risk

  • is because people who are in those positions

  • have in the past availed themselves

  • of the opportunity to commit corruption offences.

  • The documents reveal

  • hundreds of millions of dollars of Asiaciti's clients' money

  • has been ploughed into the booming Sydney property market.

  • Two luxury apartments in this city tower

  • were purchased by a Sri Lankan, Thirukumar Nadesan,

  • whose wife is a member of the country's ruling Rajapaksa Family.

  • He is currently facing corruption allegations.

  • The ownership of the apartments was hidden using a shell company

  • registered in Samoa and managed by Asiaciti.

  • PETER WHISH-WILSON: Australia is seen

  • as an easy place to park your money

  • if you're a criminal, if you're corrupt,

  • if you want to launder money.

  • More Australians out there, more battlers

  • who are trying to buy their first home

  • are going to be competing in an increasingly unaffordable market

  • against potential billionaires or tycoons in foreign countries,

  • some of them involved in corruption.

  • In another secretive offshore set-up managed by Asiaciti,

  • a Singaporean company called Bright Ruby Resources

  • spent nearly $300 million on two office towers in Sydney's CBD

  • and bought Sydney's iconic Hilton Hotel

  • in 2015 for $442 million.

  • Documents in the leak reveal the six layers of companies and trusts

  • between Bright Ruby

  • and its ultimate owner, Chinese steel billionaire, Du Shuanghua -

  • one of Asiaciti's highest-risk clients.

  • PETER CAI: He really become quite famous in 2008

  • when he become the second-richest man in China

  • according to the Hurun List,

  • which is kind of similar to our AFR Rich List.

  • In fact, there was a bit of a story about, you know,

  • he fought off to become the richest man in China.

  • He actually, I think, persuaded the editor to change that

  • because in China is always not a great idea

  • to become the richest billionaire

  • because a lot of things tend to happen to them

  • after they top the rich list.

  • Controversy has dogged Du Shuanghua

  • since he admitted to a closed court in China in 2010