Did this Vanuatu ‘zombie director’ really broker a North Korean arms deal?

The Vanuatu passport of Nesita Manceau

The Vanuatu passport of Nesita Manceau

The Panama Papers, touted as the world’s biggest leak of data on the offshore tax haven industry, reveals a number of Vanuatu connections —  34 offshore entities, 519 company officers and 8 local intermediary accounting firms. Among the more intriguing details to emerge is the role played by one Nesita Manceau, a naturalised Vanuatu citizen originally from the Philippines, implicated as a ‘zombie director’ of a company linked to an illegal shipment from North Korea of 35 tonnes of rocket-propelled grenades, missile and rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles (as detailed in this previous story). The Olympian, a newspaper from Washington state, USA, gives some background on Madame Manceau, and how she acted as a nominee director for a number of dubious operations:

“In her passport, Nesita Manceau lists her occupation as ‘housewife.’ But she does oh-so-much more. On paper at least, she’s a corporate titan. And she’s been tangled in an arms-running scandal involving North Korea and Iran.

Manceau is what could be called a ‘zombie director’ of shell companies. She’s been on the boards of scores of them. Lawyers in Florida, Oregon and Nevada have clients who call on her services.

The 55-year-old Filipina, who until recently was living in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, exercises what is required of an offshore corporate director: She simply signs her name. Time and time again.

Practically the sole function of an offshore corporate director is to cloak the identity of the real owner of a company or trust. The director serves as a legal shield, of sorts.

The documents known as the Panama Papers teem with these zombie directors who sign corporate papers at the bidding of unidentified owners. Such directors can oversee, at least on paper, hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of corporations.

They are a crucial cog in the machinery of foreign law firms and registration agents who churn out phantom corporations, stock them with proxy directors, slap a soothing name on them, and register them on atolls or far-away nations. It is a volume business.

True owners of the shell companies often want passive directors with no control over, or even knowledge of, actual operations. Secretaries, Burger King cooks and housewives will do.”

The Olympian‘s story continues:

“Manceau was born in a remote Philippine hamlet called Cabay in Eastern Samar province. Her former husband said she once served as a housekeeper after moving to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

“She was a house girl for Geoff,” said Rene Manceau, a Frenchman who described himself as a painter. “Geoff,” he said, was Geoffrey Taylor, an eccentric Brit who emigrated to Asia in the 1960s.

“She lived here for 20 years. She’s in the Philippines now. She left Vanuatu four years ago,” Manceau said in a telephone call from Vanuatu…”

“Manceau said his ex-wife has only a basic education – “nothing more than six years.”

In spite of her humble roots – or perhaps because of them — Nesita Manceau directs corporations registered all over the world. She’s been a director of companies in Britain, the Ukraine, Belize, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Manceau first appears in Mossack Fonseca records as a corporate director in 2001.

Exactly what she earned for each directorship is not known. But she usually worked with Taylor who set up a vast enterprise, the Vanuatu-registered GT Group Ltd., to register some 2,500 offshore companies, according to the documents. Taylor was known to pay 20 New Zealand dollars (about $13.50 U.S.) to his nominee directors.”

Read The Olympian‘s full story here.

More information on the Panama Papers here. The Panama Papers database can also be searched here.

See also:

Tax havens ‘serve no useful economic purpose’: 300 economists tell world leaders