Faux corporate directors stand in for fraudsters, despots and spies

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On November 14, 2006, a man going by the name Paul William Hampel was arrested at a Canadian airport on charges of being a Russian spy.

Hampel’s carefully constructed identity portrayed him as a successful businessman, yet for a decade his company did no business.

Only months before his capture, the same apparatus used to create his alias was also employed by a very different spy agency - the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency —to build a secret prison in Lithuania, where U.S. agents interrogated suspected al-Qaeda terrorists.

Earlier again, it was used by the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to cheat the Oil for Food program.

All three deceptions employed a common subterfuge: far-flung corporate entities used as anonymous fronts, with “executives” who lacked knowledge of what the firms were up to.

The activities of these so-called nominee directors are a little noticed part of the world of secretive offshore finance that’s grown so vast that it touches more than 170 of the globe’s 206 countries, but it’s one that’s often drenched in intrigue.

For a fee as low as $90, men and women who often appear to have little or no formal business qualifications lend their names as directors to enterprises they later can claim to know nothing about - even after those enterprises are linked to everything from stock fraud to money laundering.

Click through to ICIJ.org to continue reading.

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