HARARE, July 28 (The Source) – A Zimbabwe-based safari company, Guided Safaris Africa Inc, has been named as being connected to offshore companies registered in the British Virgin islands, according to new research.
Guided Safaris, owned by John Stevens, is among least 30 safari companies in Africa that used offshore companies created by Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers scandal.
According to the latest leak, Stevens is the beneficiary of the Guided Safaris, which was registered in the British Virgin Islands on August 8, 2011 to manage the Stevens’ family wealth and to act as a booking agent for safari revenue estimated at $250,000 a year according to files received by Mossack Fonseca.
A report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on John Stevens (ICIJ) said the company held a bank account in the Isle of Man, an offshore financial centre in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, and was owned by Stevens’ family trust.
“While Stevens’ safari business is very much Zimbabwean, his financial universe is a classic creation of offshore globetrotting,” writes the ICIJ.
“Stevens’ financial affairs, outlined in years of correspondence with Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, reveal how the poetry of Africa’s savannahs mixes with the day-to-day paper-pushing of offshore management.”
While there are legal reasons for opening an offshore account, it is not immediately clear why Stevens or his companies needed one.
Stevens could not be reached for comment and his listed office phones went unanswered but the firm’s website said the office for his safari business was at his home in Highlands, Harare.
He also declined to respond to ICIJ’s inquiries.
The documents show that Guided Safaris has ties to Hanoverian Ltd, which itself is connected to 35 entities, all registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Northern Wychwood is also at the centre of allegations that it was sued by Zimbabwe’s platinum mining giant, Zimplats Holdings, allegedly to set up an offshore company, HR Consultancy, more than a decade ago to pay salaries for its senior managers, according to documents released in May.
HR Consultancy was allegedly set up without the knowledge of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and therefore breached exchange control regulations. Zimplats and its parent company, Implats both denied any knowledge of HR Consultancy and the transactions referred to.
About 280 locals were named in the May release of the Panama Papers, with claims millions may have been externalised from the country.
Prominent names from the list include Zimplats chief executive officer Alex Mhembere, property tycoon Ken Sharpe, former Aico chief executive Happymore Mapara, plus well known businessmen Billy Rautenbach and John Bredenkamp.
Zimbabwe’s central bank in May said it had opened investigations into the allegations.