Secrecy for sale: Offshore subsidiaries sell to militaries, intelligence agencies

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Bahraini riot police watch for protesters. Activists' computers in the country were infected with Finfisher spying software.

AP

A number of so-called nominee directors of companies registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) have connections to military or intelligence activities, an investigation has revealed.

In the past, the British arms giant BAE was the most notorious user of offshore secrecy. The Guardian in 2003 revealed the firm had set up a pair of covert BVI entities.

The undeclared subsidiaries were used to distribute hundreds of millions of pounds in secret payments to get overseas arms contracts.

Today the investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the Guardian uncovers the identities of other offshore operators.

Louthean Nelson owns the Gamma Group, a controversial computer surveillance firm employing ex-military personnel. It sells bugging technology to Middle East and south-east Asian governments.

Nelson owns a BVI offshore arm, Gamma Group International Ltd.

Gamma's spyware, which can be used against dissidents, has turned up in the hands of both Egyptian and Bahraini state security police, although Nelson's representative claims this happened inadvertently.

He initially denied to us that Nelson was linked to Gamma, and denied that Nelson owned the anonymous BVI affiliate.

Martin Muench, who has a 15 per cent share in the company's German subsidiary, said he was the group's sole press spokesman, and told us: "Louthean Nelson is not associated with any company by the name of Gamma Group International Ltd. If by chance you are referring to any other Gamma company, then the explanation is the same for each and every one of them."

After he was confronted with evidence obtained by the ICIJ/Guardian investigation, Muench changed his position. He told us: "You are absolutely right, apparently there is a Gamma Group International Ltd."

 

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