Paradis Fiscaux et Judiciaires

Mystery of Irish address at centre of fraud scandal

jeudi 31 mai 2007

Mystery of Irish address at centre of fraud scandal

Martin Bright

Sunday May 11, 2003

The Observer

It is France’s largest-ever fraud scandal with tentacles stretching around the globe. But now the trail of corruption in the Elf-Aquitaine affair has led to the heart of the Dublin’s financial establishment and the Georgian grandeur of Fitzwilliam Square.

The Elf scandal has already dragged in senior French politicians. Now officials in Ireland will be scratching their heads as to how massive kickbacks paid by Elf were syphoned through Irish companies.

Over the past three weeks, Elf executives giving evidence in the latest trial in Paris have painted a picture of the multi-million franc kickbacks and bribes on deals from the early 1990s.

Last week, the court heard the extraordinary tale of the Spanish oil refinery, the Iraqi billionaire and the kickback payments that found their way into the accounts of an Irish haulage company.

French investigators found a pattern in the deals carried out while Loïk le Floch-Prigent was Elf’s president. Each time Elf did a deal, a cut of payments made to middle-men found their way to the accounts of Elf executives, including Le Floch-Prigent. At the heart of the affair was Elf’s head of special operations Alfred Sirven, who was arrested in the Philippines in February 2001.

The French court heard that in 1991 Elf paid 3.6 billion pesetas to the Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi for his help in purchasing the Spanish Ertoil refinery. The French oil giant was unable to buy the refinery outright because it was waiting for clearance from the European financial authorities. Auchi’s job was to caretake the refinery for Elf and he later received a further commission after the US company Conaco made a bid for the refinery.

But Auchi struggled to explain why he paid 1.4bn pesetas into an account at the Banque Continentale de Luxembourg belonging to an Irish haulage company called Travlane. When the French investigators looked into the accounts they found that its sole purpose was to act as the conduit for kickbacks paid to Sirven.

When asked why he didn’t question the 1.4bn peseta kickback that went back to Elf, Auchi said he assumed that everything was above board.

Travlane’s registered address is 48 Fitzwilliam Square. There is no evidence that it ever carried out any road haulage activities or that the Dublin exchequer received tax on the billions of pesetas passing through its account.

Even more mysterious are the activities of a second company registered at the prestigious Dublin address. The Observer has discovered that during the time of Auchi’s ownership of the Spanish Ertoil refinery, bills totalling 485 million pesetas were sent to Ertoil by a company called Venusia. When investigators looked into the accounts they found that Venusia was also based at 48, Fitzwilliam Square. Again it seems the Irish tax authorities had no idea that such amounts of money were passing through the accounts.

Last week the Irish financial authorities appeared unaware that the Elf scandal had reached the heart of Ireland’s commercial world.

A spokesman for the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority said the activities of Travlane should certainly have drawn the attention of regulators in Ireland. ’If you want to operate as a bank, you have to be licensed as a bank,’ said the spokesman.

Verdicts in the Elf trial are expected in September.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

Source the Guardian Unlimited.

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