Secrecy for Sale

Published — June 9, 2014 Updated — July 1, 2014 at 3:48 pm ET

How an island paradise became a haven for dirty money

Seychelles, a thousand miles from anywhere, is an offshore magnet for money launderers and tax dodgers


In the fall of 2012, two strangers from Africa showed up in Seychelles, an emerald-green archipelago in the Indian Ocean nearly a thousand miles east of Somalia. Unlike Prince William and Kate Middleton and other A-list celebrities who favor Seychelles as a getaway, these visitors didn’t come to enjoy the islands’ natural beauty and luxury accommodations. They were there, they said, to conduct business in Seychelles’ bustling offshore financial center.

They made their way to the offices of Zen Offshore, one of dozens of firms on the islands that set up hard-to-trace “shell companies” for clients around the world. They explained that they represented an individual who served as a “liaison officer between the Zimbabwean government and the rich diamond mines.”

But before they could go further, a Zen Offshore representative cut them off.

“Yep, we don’t want to know that,” he said, chuckling. “If we have knowledge of that, we have to put it forwards.”

The conversation can be quoted in exact detail because the would-be customers weren’t actually emissaries for a corrupt middleman in Africa. They were undercover journalists running a hidden-camera sting for an Al Jazeera television program.

Like most small tax havens, Seychelles has an outsized impact that belies its modest market share, and is a crucial link in the chains of secrecy that drive the wider offshore system.

But unlike many other island havens for dirty money, the Seychelles has resisted international pressure to crackdown on cross-border tax dodging and money laundering. Any by pushing back against organisations like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other international powers, the Seychelles offshore industry is growing.

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