Finance Minister says he should have been more cautious after Pandora Papers disclosure
Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said he did not know that a company he invested in twelve years ago was located in the British Virgin Islands. He stated that he has always adhered to all laws and rules, and that he never earned a profit from the investment.
The investment came to light on Sunday, following research by Trouw, Het Financieele Dagblad and research platform Investico. They had access to the Pandora Papers, a collection of millions of leaked documents from tax havens. The Pandora Papers were distributed to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The three Dutch media outlets are affiliated with the organization.
Hoekstra owned an interest in a letterbox company in the British Virgin Islands from 2009. He remained part of the private investment group until October 2017, according to the researchers. The group still uses the company located in the Caribbean tax haven to invest in a safari company in East Africa.
“Twelve years ago, I did not realize where the company was located. Of course I should have looked into that more afterwards,” Hoekstra said.
Hoekstra also said he disclosed the investment on all relevant tax returns. The investigative report determined he did not make the disclosure to the Senate while he was a Senator, including when he was on a committee considering policy initiatives to tackle international tax avoidance. He was not required to make the disclosure to the Senate.
"I was not a fiscal spokesperson in the Senate, and I have always adhered to the rules that apply to members of the Senate," the current CDA party leader claimed on Twitter.
Hoekstra said that the investment “in a friend’s start-up for ecotourism in Africa” was first valued at 26,500 euros. "I was not involved with the company or its operations in any way.” He sold the shares before he became a Cabinet minister. His investment increased in value by 4,800 euros when he sold it, but he donated that profit to "a Dutch charity for the benefit of scientific research into cancer", the finance minister said.
The chair of the supervisory board at ABN Amro, Tom de Swaan, was also part of the private investment club in which Hoekstra was involved, according to Trouw, Het Financieele Dagblad and Investico. Hoekstra appointed De Swaan to his position in July 2018.
The bank was then, and still is, majority held by the Dutch State. It’s current ownership stake is 56.3 percent via NLFI, which was “set up as a means to avoid potential conflicting responsibilities that the Dutch Minister of Finance might otherwise face, as a shareholder and as a regulator, as well as to avoid undesired political influence being exerted,” the bank says on its website.
Former investment banker Wilco Jiskoot and Alexandra Schaapveld, the supervisory director at Société Générale and until recently also at development bank FMO, have also been part of the investment club.
The British Virgin Islands is one of the largest tax havens in the world. Disclosures have shown since 2013 how the country is helping to cover up corruption and fraud.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times.