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Saturday, Jul 31, 2021

OpenLux : the secrets of Luxembourg, a tax haven at the heart of Europe

OpenLux : the secrets of Luxembourg, a tax haven at the heart of Europe

55,000 offshore companies managing assets worth at least 6 trillion euros.

It is a well-kept secret, a persistent mystery, a question that has been unresolved for years : what is the financial centre in Luxembourg hiding ? What would we find if we opened the safe of this tiny State located in the heart of the European Union, listed by many researchers in the world’s top 5 tax havens ? The OpenLux investigation, conducted by Le Monde along with ten media partners for more than a year, provides answers : 55,000 offshore companies managing assets worth at least 6 trillion euros.

These phantom companies without offices or employees were created by billionaires, multinationals, sportsmen, artists, high-ranking politicians and even royal families. Luxembourg acts as a magnet for the wealth of the world : in a territory of 2,586 km2, Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo rub shoulders with Shakira and the King of Bahrain. Hundreds of multinationals (LVMH, Kering, Altice, Pfizer, Amazon…) have opened financial subsidiaries. Wealthy families increase their real estate assets there.

More surprisingly, OpenLux reveals that questionable funds, suspected of originating in criminal activity or linked to criminals targeted by judicial investigations, have been concealed in Luxembourg. This is the case of companies linked to the Italian Mafia, the’Ndrangheta, and the Russian underworld. The League, Italy’s far-right party, has hidden a secret fund which is sought by the Italian authorities. People close to the Venezuelan regime have recycled corrupt government procurement funds.

To conduct this investigation, Le Monde has compiled a huge database that lists the beneficiaries of the 124.000 commercial companies registered in Luxembourg, i.e. their true owners, along with 3.3 million administrative acts and financial reports. These are documents that have recently been made public, but are only available on the Luxembourg trade register website. Le Monde was able to extract them in their entirety for analysis, in partnership with the Suddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, Le Soir in Belgium, McClatchy in the United States, Woxx in Luxembourg, IrpiMedia in Italy, and the OCCRP Consortium of investigative journalists.

157 nationalities represented

These investigations confirm that the Grand Duchy is, contrary to what the Luxembourg authorities claim, a veritable offshore centre, halfway between the City of London and the British Virgin Islands. Nearly 90 % of its « companies » are controlled by non-Luxembourgers. Among the 157 nationalities represented in this amazing « Who’s who », the French stand out : they head the list with, in total, more than 17.000 companies.

What they house is surprising : valuable property, here a castle near Paris owned by a Saudi prince, there a vineyard in Provence owned by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and an endless list of villas on the French Riviera and well-appointed Parisian apartments. But also flagships of the French economy, such as Yves Rocher, Chanel, JCDecaux and Decathlon. It’s almost as if Luxembourg owned small pieces of France.

The case of France is not isolated : it is also through Luxembourg companies that some investment funds buy whole swathes of cities such as Berlin and London, causing real estate prices to rocket without being identifiable or paying taxes. The list of international assets held in Luxembourg is a gigantic inventory, including luxurious residences, chalets, yachts, helicopters, private jets and big planes, music catalogues, the rights to images, works of art, in short, the list is endless.

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