Every newspaper in the country seems to have visited the ICIJ website and published the names of the 65 Sri Lankans named in the Offshore Leaks and Panama Papers (both sets of names exist in one list).

Being on this list or being associated to it, however, does not make anyone a criminal. Yes, four Avante-Garders are there, but Emma Watson is also on that list; so are two Hirdramani’s. I don’t want to believe that Hermoine Granger, after all she went through with Voldemort, committed tax fraud.

However, there is one thing we can do: take a closer look at the companies outed in that list.Screenshot_4

Corporate entities in the ICIJ database take three forms: they’re either Mossack Fonseca, an offshore entity or an intermediary. Offshore entities are incorporated in tax haven countries (mostly the British Virgin isles – whoever named those islands was probably doing some very wistful thinking). The intermediaries, as I understand it, bridge the tax haven and the user.

 

1. OVERSEAS FINANCE LIMITED. Incorporated 1992.

Jurisdiction: the British Virgin Islands.

Listed address: Advantec Network Systems, 7/11, Liberty Plaza, Colombo 03.

I’m pretty sure Advantec is not a finance company.  A brief search shows Advantec Network Systems registered in business directories as a company importing and distributing networking gear. They apparently bring down stuff from Brand Rex, Allied Telesyn, Lucent, Rittal and Finolex. Registered address: 7A, Summer Place, Borella. Year established: also 1992.

If this is our Advantec, it doesn’t look like ye little cable company from Borella. lk.kompass.com lists one Prakash Advani as an executive.

Prakash Advani and Advantec show up in the same breath multiple times, most notably in this Business Standard article, which reports that Advantec markets TV/COM products in India.

India? There is  an Advantec listed in India.  44 Malkani Mahal, Nr Century Bhavn, Dr A B Road, Worli, Mumbai.  P. Rajendran, publicly listed as Advantec’s General Manager in Sri Lanka, went to school and college in India after graduating from a school in Nawalapitiya.

Now – maybe I’m off the field here, but the name ‘Advantec’ seems to be incredibly common in this database of ours. A search for companies containing those letters gives us 12 names:

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One of which lists Portcullis TrustNet Chambers as the address – Portcullis, a company which was outed in ICIJ’s 2013 Offshore Leaks Investigation as one of the most popular companies behind such offshore companies.

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Either this rabbit hole runs deep, or I’ve gone off on a tangent.

2. TECLLOYD TLD. Incorporated 1994.

Jurisdiction: the British Virgin Islands.

Listed address: Asia Capital Limited, 21-01 West Tower, World Trade Center, Echelon Square, Colombo.

Now, there is a fairly well-known Asia Capital. It’s an investment bank listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Could it be the same one?

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Yes. Yes, it is.

Unlike Advantec, this one barely needs digging. Asia Capital is huge. “At Asia Capital PLC we have often chosen the road less travelled as we continue to strive towards achieving the unreasonable, the unattainable and even the impossible in value added investment and unmatched wealth creation services,” says their website.  Their 2015 Annual Report is an eye-opener: Rs  1,651,075,000 in turnover; Rs 2,641,332,000 in total assets. That’s Rs 1.65 billion in turnover – 70% up from 2014, as their report notes. Their annual reports since 2007 are available here. Their Chairman is Paul Ratnayeke; the CEO is Stefan Abeyesinhe.

Interestingly, Paul seems to have quit the company in 2008, only to return later. He runs Paul Ratnayeke Associates – 59, Gregory’s Road, Colombo 07, and was also involved in Richard Pieris & Company – ARPICO to us mortals.

Since this is a very well-known and talented lawyer who’s been working the field longer than I’ve been alive, let me cover my ass and repeat my earlier statement: being on this list or being associated to it, does not make anyone a criminal.  As the ICIJ themselves state, there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly. This article is composed entirely of publicly available information and is not meant to accuse anyone of anything other than being publicly searchable.

I suppose this is one way of achieving the unreasonable, the unattainable and even the impossible –  set up a company that sounds like Tec9 met Pink Flloyd.

3. BEST CHEERS LIMITED. Incorporated 2002.

Jurisdiction: the British Virgin Islands.

Listed address: Simon Paul Finch, Apt no 8B, Ceylinco Residencies, Ceylinco Seylan Towers, 90, Galle Road, Colombo 3

 

The address is actually a person, not a company, so it’s complicated. Also, the  Simon Paul is apparently a fairly common name in the name list, so I sorted by Simon Finch. Simon Finch appears once in the Officers list, country code LKA. If it’s the same one, Simon Paul Finch is a ghost. I have nothing on him. MacLloyd’s lists a Simon Paul Finch at 131, W.A.D. Ramanayake Mawatha, Colombo 02. There is one Facebook user by that name listing සිංහල as a spoken language. Simon Finches are everywhere in England.

Except for one record: Companydirectorcheck.com.

SIMON FINCH, it says, Apartment 88 Ceylinco Seylan Towers.

Born: 1965.

Nationality: BRITISH.

Country: SRI LANKA.

Post town: COLOMBO.

Zoom in on the record. Simon Finch was employed as Director at KNIGHTSFORD EQUESTRIAN CENTRE LTD, 45 High Street, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, SA61 2BP from 02 March 2001 to 18 January 2005.  The company is now dissolved.

Is Simon Finch, born 1965, the same Simon Finch associated with Best Cheers? Despite him practically being a digital ghost, the odds seem pretty high if you consider that ‘8B Ceylinco Seylan Towers’ and ’88 Ceylinco Seylan Towers’ are visually almost identical – one could easily be a typo of the other.

 


This concludes my digging into the offshore entities listed in the Panama Papers. I never intended to write this much, but as it turns out, the search was longer than I had imagined. When time permits, I’ll attempt to do the same for the intermediaries listed in the files.

The actual number of Sri Lankans involved in the Papers is definitely greater than 65; there seem to be quite a few linked from Singapore, the UAE and the like. We may need to go through the entire list to compile the definitive list of all persons of Sri Lankan affiliation or descent.

To examine the same data that I’ve been using, head over to https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/pages/database. That database is the summary list of names of both the 2013 Offshore Leaks investigation and those of the Panama Papers. I’m afraid the full 2.6 Terabyte dataset is almost impossible to download on a Sri Lankan connection, so unless the newspapers decide to get serious, I doubt we’ll get beyond listing names and hashtagging #yahapalanaya.

For some interesting visualizations of the full dataset, visit https://panamapapers.icij.org/graphs/. Happy hunting.