by frontiers | November 8, 2017 1:16 pm
They are some of the biggest names in entertainment, and all of them make an appearance in the Paradise Papers. Some do so by name, such as the “Ciccone, Madonna” listed in tiny print among the investors of a Bermuda company, while others are there by dint of the offshore entities they have backed.
Some of the celebrities’ interests are historical, others contemporary. Some are similar to those of the singer Shakira, who holds a substantial portion of her showbusiness earnings offshore.
Others such as Justin Timberlake and Nicole Kidman seem more interested in acquiring property in the Bahamas, and may have real estate or privacy reasons for registering companies in those jurisdictions.
Whatever the motive, there is nothing illegal about moving money offshore and nothing to suggest that any of those named below had any unlawful purpose. But the industry has evolved and grown exponentially in recent years – and political and public attitudes to offshore regimes have changed equally dramatically.
The current political climate raises legitimate questions about the actions of wealthy and well-known individuals: what benefit they were hoping for and will they continue to use such vehicles following the Paradise Papers revelations?
The disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein invested in the now-defunct Bermuda-based medical venture capital firm Scientia Health Group Ltd. Weinstein took out 2,000 shares in the company in November 2001, leaked files from the law firm Appleby show.
He gave as his contact point the name of Richard Koenigsberg, one of the directors of the Weinstein Company who last month fired the film mogul after several women accused him of sexual harassment.
It is not known whether Weinstein sold his stake in Scientia before it went out of business. He did not respond to Guardian questions.
The lifestyle guru Martha Stewart was also an investor in Scientia. The company was founded by Samuel Waksal, who at the time was also chief executive of ImClone.
Stewart took out a stake in both of Waksal’s companies. It was her decision to sell about $230,000 (£174,000) of shares in ImClone in December 2001, a day before the release of an adverse US Food and Drug Administration ruling, that landed her in insider-dealing trouble, with Stewart and Waksal ending up in prison.
Stewart declined to comment on her historical Bermuda investment.
Tucked away on page 31 of one of the 7m documents contained in the Appleby leak is an entry in tiny print for a company shareholder, listed with her last name followed by first name: Ciccone, Madonna. The suspicion that this report may refer to Madonna Louise Ciccone, better known simply as Madonna, is strengthened by the address given for the holder, the Manhattan offices of Provident Financial Management, which specialises in managing tours and live performances in the music industry and has worked for the “queen of pop”.
Madonna is listed as having bought 2,000 shares in the Bermuda-incorporated company SafeGard Medical Ltd in 1998.
What the star was doing investing in a medical company based in a tax haven remains a mystery, as does whether or not she sold her shares before the entity was dissolved in 2013. While it was active, SafeGard produced medical equipment such as retractable syringes.
The Guardian asked Madonna through her London-based publicist to illuminate the subject, but she did not reply.
In August 2015, the musician and actor Justin Timberlake created a Delaware company with a similar name to his record label Tennman Records. Legal documents contained in the Paradise Papers show the limited liability company was set up with Timberlake as its sole member and his Los Angeles-based accountant, Michael Dreyer, as manager.
The purpose of the company, the documents show, was to “engage in the purchase of real estate” in the Bahamas. Four months after setting it up, Timberlake moved to register the entity as a foreign company in the Bahamas.
Why Timberlake was keen to have a company structure for buying real estate in the Bahamas remains unclear, and the star did not respond to a Guardian request for comment. A clue is provided, perhaps, in another Appleby document showing that a month before the holding was set up, a separate entity called Nexus Luxury Collection Ltd was incorporated in the Bahamas as an “international business company”.
Timberlake is the main partner in Nexus Luxury Collection along with the golfer Tiger Woods and financier Joe Lewis. One of its prime assets is an 18-hole golf course in Albany, a resort community in the Bahamas.
The actor Nicole Kidman and her country musician husband, Keith Urban, registered their joint US-based limited liability company as a foreign entity in the Bahamas in March 2015. Leaked documents show their aim was to secure “ownership of interests in real property” in the tax haven using a portion of their wealth.
If the celebrity couple were to buy and later sell a property on the island, they would be subject to taxation on any increase in its value. Were they to do so as a Bahamian entity, they would face individual levels of US tax on the rise – anything up to 39.6%.
By contrast, setting up a US-based limited liability company and registering it in the Bahamas as they did would allow them to treat the increase in price as capital gains. That way, they would only pay an effective rate of 23.8%.
A spokesman for Kidman and Urban said tax was irrelevant to the way they structured their affairs. The registering of the US company in the Bahamas was solely to comply with local laws and “to hold Bahamian property and protect their family’s privacy. The company is taxed under US law and no special tax advantages accrue to them or the company. They are taxed as if they owned the property directly.”
The Colombian singer-songwriter makes an appearance in the documents under her full name, Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll. The Grammy award-winner, who released her first album when she was 13, is listed as a resident of the Bahamas even though she lives in Barcelona.
She is also the sole shareholder of Tournesol Ltd, a Malta company with €3m in share capital. Malta, the smallest EU member state, has faced accusations that it operates as a tax haven.
What are the Paradise Papers?
The Paradise Papers is a special investigation by the Guardian and 95 media partners worldwide into a leak of 13.4m files from two offshore service providers and 19 tax havens’ company registries. The files reveal the offshore financial affairs of some of the world’s biggest multinational companies and richest individuals, and set out the myriad ways in which tax can be avoided using artificial structures
The Paradise Papers reveal that in June 2009 Shakira’s “musical assets, intellectual property rights and trademarks” were moved to Tournesol. At the same time the Malta-based business increased its capital with a share premium of €31m following a valuation of those musical assets by the New York consultancy Gelfand, Rennert & Feldman.
The €31m came in the form of an “interest-free loan agreement” from another Shakira entity in Luxembourg named ACE Entertainment. The loan was annulled in 2014.
A lawyer representing the singer told the consortium of journalists working on the Paradise Papers that Tournesol Ltd “fulfils all legal requirements. All of the corresponding information relative to this entity is public and transparent.”
Asked about her listed residence in the Bahamas, the lawyer added that as an international artist Shakira had lived in a variety of places “throughout her professional career and, in every case, has fully met the laws of all the jurisdictions where she has resided”.
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