The name of a major donor to the British Columbia Liberal Party appears in a database drawn from the Panama Papers leak.
Haywood Securities Inc., a Vancouver company that has given the BC Liberals $332,000 since 2005, is described in the database as a shareholder in companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, a researcher with the Dogwood Initiative environmental group in B.C. discovered.
According to the database, Haywood held shares in Kola Gold Ltd., a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands in 2014. The investment firm held the shares both directly and in trust for a holding company.
The database also lists Haywood as holding shares in African Aura Resources Ltd., a mining company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, in trust for 22 investors. And it held shares in trust for an investor in Gem Diamond Mining Company of Africa, which is also registered in the British Virgin Islands.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published the database on May 9. On its website, the ICIJ describes the Panama Papers as a "giant leak of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposes a system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, hidden by secretive offshore companies."
A disclaimer in the ICIJ website stresses that there are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts, and the organization does not intend to imply anyone appearing in the database has broken any laws or otherwise acted improperly.
Finance minister won't 'speculate'
The Tyee's call to Haywood was put through to company president Rob Blanchard's office. An assistant to Blanchard took the message, but the call was not returned by publication time.
Michael de Jong, the finance minister for B.C., said when asked about Haywood appearing in the Panama Papers database, "Haven't had any briefing. No knowledge. Don't want to speculate. If it's a particular company, I'll ask."
Asked in general what information from the Panama Papers might mean for B.C., de Jong said, "I haven't got a full briefing amidst all the other stuff, so I'm not really in a position to say. I'm not aware of any direct implications, but I haven't got a full briefing yet."
David Eby, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, said that while having an offshore bank account is legal, it is often an indicator that a company or an individual may be avoiding paying provincial or federal taxes in Canada.
"The concern that I would have is that a major BC Liberal donor could influence government policy in for example declining to invest in additional auditors to study this Panama Papers disclosure and find out whether or not people are avoiding provincial taxes," he said.
"I would ask the question about whether or not the BC Liberals should be receiving donations from people who have significant offshore holdings," he said. "I think it sends a certain message about tolerance for revenue avoidance mechanisms, whether or not it's actually the case."
Pursue tax evaders, Eby says
Eby and the NDP have been pressing the government to ban corporate and union donations to provincial political parties, and he has said large contributions give the public the impression that money buys favourable treatment from the government and access to top officials, including Premier Christy Clark.
Provincial officials should make good use of the information in the Panama Papers, Eby said. "Certainly I think the province should be looking carefully at all the Panama Papers disclosures to ensure that the people who are named there, who have accounts there, are appropriately paying all of their taxes and disclosing all of their income in British Columbia."
Tax evasion is a real problem in B.C. and Canada, he said. "This is a serious issue the province needs to get on, and they might not be as incented to do it if they think their major donors might not like it."
The Panama Papers database lists African Aura Mining Inc., a company Sedar indicates is headquartered in Vancouver, as an intermediary (which it defines as "lawyers and service providers who help set up or act as the registered agents for the offshore companies") for African Aura Resources Ltd., as well as for 18 other entities.
Individuals that Haywood held shares in African Aura in trust for include Michael Halvorson, Ron Lankester, Virginia Clarke, Matthew Clarke, David Elliott, Laurence Guichon, David Shepherd, Ed McKim, David Berg, Andrew Williams, John Day, Linda Benson and Terry Evancio.
Haywood also held shares in African Aura for Batell Investments Ltd., Remap Management Ltd., Dana H. Prince Law Corp., Dragon Equities Ltd., Ak Abbi Professional Corp., Millerd Holdings Ltd., Datmix Investments Inc., Trafalgar 1805 Ltd. and the numbered company 0707677 B.C. Ltd., which according to the province's corporate registry has a Vancouver address and is headed by Marcel de Groot.
Shares in Gem Diamond Mining were held in trust for Robert Disbrow and shares in Kola Gold were held in trust for Aldat 2000 Holdings Ltd.