"Overseas organizations keep saying there is money laundering going on in Vanuatu, but nobody ever comes up with an example," notes Thomas Bayer, chairman of the Vanuatu Financial Services Commission and head of a group of financial service companies based in Port Vila.
...Bayer shakes his head in disbelief.
"Nothing gets laundered in Nauru.They do not have a currency; they do not have a central bank.If any bank is set up in Nauru to launder money, it would have to be done in some other country."Bayer
says one of his
own firms, European Bank Ltd.
, had a Russian client that was involved in fertilizer and oil.The company had bank accounts in Vanuatu, London and Australia."KPMG was the auditor and a big legal firm represented them.Because this big Russian company had a base in Vanuatu, it was suspected of money laundering.Well, that company did almost no banking here; all the banking happened in London or Australia."
Even the US government has made claims that Vanuatu is a "jurisdiction of prime concern" for money laundering, and companies such as The Bank of New York
(BNY) put a ban on bank dealings with Vanuatu.
To fight the charges, Bayer
led a delegation to New York, talking to concerned banks such as Chase, Bankers Trust
and BNY."They thought nobody would contest," says Bayer
said, ‘We do not deal with you guys, but we thought it safer to support a ban and, if you didn't show up, we figured we would be right.' They lifted the ban."Bayer
, however, does admit his
bank got caught in a money laundering problem."We received some money that had its source from credit card fraud in America, went through the Caymans and some ended up deposited in our bank.When we became suspicious, we went to the court and had the money frozen.The Americans
showed up, tried to get the freeze lifted so they could take the money away, but no one had yet been convicted of a crime.We are still fighting it.We blew the whistle, but it is their one example of money laundering in Vanuatu."
"Vanuatu's biggest markets are Australia and New Zealand, but, as we proceed into the future, Asia has become a major market, from Burma to Japan, because they are within approximate time zones," says Bayer
."We can talk to them during the day.If something happens in Hong Kong and something needs to be put on our books, it can all be done in the same day."
Vanuatu, like all the Pacific finance centers, is weak on fund management.In Vanuatu, there is only one fund manager that manages funds incorporated in Canada.This is the result of Vanuatu competitively suffering from a stamp duty issue.
"No other offshore jurisdiction in the world charges you a stamp duty on transfer of shares or units," explains Bayer
."Hence, there are no funds legally created and based in Vanuatu."
From a humble posting over 30 years ago, Bayer
, a native Pennsylvanian, has pasted together what he
calls a family enterprise of sister companies (there is no central holding company).He graduated with a degree in management from Lehigh University and an MBA from the Wharton School of Finance at The University of Pennsylvania.In the mid-1960s, he took a job in Australia, later moving to Singapore before winding up in Port Vila to join the Pacific International Trust Co.
Ltd., better known as PITCO
.In 1984, Bayer family interests bought all the equity in PITCO
, eventually building it into the largest trust operation in Vanuatu.
Five years later, the same family interests acquired Vanuatu's European Bank Ltd.
and its subsidiary, European Trust Co.
Ltd.The bank also has a sister company, Asia Pacific Finance, based in London.Now, European Bank and Asia Pacific Finance
are wholly owned subsidiaries of a Delaware, USA holding company called European Capital Holding Corp.
"We have the contract to run the ship registry in Vanuatu using our operating office in New York," explains Bayer
."We now have over 500 vessels around the world flying our flag."Bayer's family of companies employs 100 people worldwide, with 55 of those workers based in Vanuatu.
One of the group's more significant companies is called Pacific Fund Managers Ltd.
, a manager of funds domiciled in Canada, the most important of which is the Pacific Capital Growth Fund Ltd.
comprises seven currency funds that invest in bank deposits with leading international banks and provide shareholders with foreign currency investments in Australian dollar, deutschmark, Japanese yen, New Zealand dollar, pound sterling, Swiss franc and US dollar.
"We no longer have any equity funds," says Bayer
."We do only fixed income, currency and managed currency."PCGF
did have an equity fund until last year, but the company wrote to all its investors to say it was closing the fund and giving the money back because as, Bayer
says, "the market was out of control."That was in February 2000.It was great timing, because the New York stock market slumped soon afterwards."Nothing made sense to us," says Bayer
, "and we would rather see that the investors had their money back."As it turned out, it was a fortuitous decision for all concerned. -SB
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