ABN Amro chair apologizes for tax haven investment revealed by Pandora Papers
ABN Amro admits that it's "against the zeitgeist" that the chairman of the supervisory board Tom de Swaan invests privately through a tax haven. The bank emphasizes that the financial construction "is not in conflict with the law" but calls it unfortunate that ABN Amro is now associated with tax havens via the chairman of the supervisory board. De Swaan will divest the investment with immediate effect and apologized in an email to his colleagues at the bank on Monday for underestimating the consequences of the tax construction.
Research by hundreds of international journalists showed that many politicians and financial directors worldwide invest privately through 'smart' constructions in tax havens to avoid taxes in their own country. Although private investments are legally permitted, they go against the ambition of banks and the Dutch government, among others, to contain this kind of 'smart' financial constructions via tax havens.
De Swaan explained in his published email that he "invested in the company of a friend, former ABN Amro colleague Jeroen Hardewijk, out of sincere intentions" and always declared his investments to the tax authorities. He also wrote that "the investment is not for tax avoidance or worse." According to an ABN Amro spokesperson, there is "nothing technically wrong" with private investment. But the company's management, which concerns the safari park project Asilia in East Africa, "could have opted for a foundation in the Netherlands when it was founded" instead of a letterbox firm in the British Virgin Islands.
De Swaan immediately distanced himself from the investment and said that he would "gift it to the founders of Asilia so that it is once more clear what the intention of this investment was." According to the ABN Amro spokesperson, it is not yet possible for the bank to impose new rules on employees and directors in private investments. "If that's going to happen, it would apply to the entire industry." The spokesperson expects that this isn't over yet.
Until he was appointed Minister in October 2018, caretaker Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra was also co-owner of the letterbox firm. The Pandora Papers also mention Maarten Muller, supervisory director at Van Lanschot Kempen, and Alexandra Schaapveld, supervisory director at the French bank Société Générale, as linked to Asilia. Van Lanschot Kempen announced that Muller is also relinquishing his interest in Asilia.
Reporting by ANP.