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18th Mar 2019

Ex-EU commissioner Kroes held offshore firm

  • Neelie Kroes was listed as director of an offshore company based in the Bahamas, which she did not declare while at the EU commission (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's former competition commissioner Neelie Kroes was the director of an offshore company based in the Bahamas tax haven, leaked documents have revealed.

The revelation was disclosed on Wednesday (21 September) as part of a cache of 1.3 million files from the Bahamas corporate register obtained by German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

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Kroes had failed to declare the company, Mint Holdings Ltd, during the 10 years of her tenure at the EU commission, first as competition chief (2004-10) and then as digital agenda commissioner up until 2014.

In June, she walked out of an interview with a Belgian journalist for questioning her integrity after landing a job on the advisory board of the car-riding service Uber, a company she staunchly defended during her time as digital agenda commissioner.

At a speech delivered on social justice in 2009, she slammed companies that rely on well connected politicians and states willing to hand out taxpayers' money.

"We are not getting more social justice, we are getting less," she had said. Her tough lines earned her the moniker "Steelie Neelie".

Kroes' lawyer told media that she had not declared she was director of Mint Holdings Ltd between 2000 and 2009 due to a "clerical oversight".

“Mrs Kroes will inform the president of the European Commission of this oversight and will take full responsibility for it,” said the lawyer.

The company is still active and also lists Jordanian businessman Amin Badr-El-Din among its directors, with whom she reportedly had planned to create "the world’s premier gas company" by buying up Enron assets.

The plan fell through after Enron, a US firm, collapsed.

Further big disclosures are likely.

Princes and felons

The Bahamas files lists 175,000 Bahamian companies, trusts and foundations registered between 1990 and early 2016 and includes "prime ministers, ministers, princes and convicted felons", according to the ICIJ.

But the Kroes revelation is another stinging embarrassment to an EU commission that is already struggling for credibility.

Current commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, served as Luxembourg prime minister while hundreds of tax-avoiding deals with multinationals were agreed.

Those revelations, known as Lux Leaks, helped firms channel billions through the Duchy in an effort to avoid paying into state public coffers.

The commission has since launched tax transparency policies but critics say it falls short.

“Today we got another peek into the dark underworld of the global financial system," said Tove Maria Ryding, from Brussels-based European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), in a statement.

“What countries need to do is to introduce public registers showing who owns companies and trusts in their countries.”

In April, a separate cache of some 11.5 million files belonging to Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca were also published.

The wife of EU climate and energy commissioner Miguel Arias Canete was named as was Iceland's former prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who was forced to resign.

The Kroes disclosure also follows controversial criticism of former EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso for taking a job at Goldman Sachs in July.

The American mega-bank played a key role in triggering a 2008 global economic crisis by mis-selling sub-prime mortgages and making dubious loans to the Greek government in the lead up to the crash.

The EU commission launched an inquiry into Barroso following pressure from within and outside the institution.

Socialist French MEPs are now demanding a parliamentary inquiry into corporate recruitment of former EU commissioners like Barroso and Kroes. They are also demanding a stronger mandate for a separate probe into the Panama papers.

Panama Papers: EU's Canete implicated in leak

Financial dealings of EU climate commissioner Canete are revealed in leaked documents called the Panama Papers, which also shed light on finances of the leaders of Iceland, Russia and Ukraine.

EU commission seeks answers from Kroes

Juncker has written to former competition chief after revelations about her offshore firm. Kroes says she forgot to mention it. Her penalty, if any, will be symbolic, but EU reputational damage is growing.

Former EU commissioner gets slap on the wrist

Neelie Kroes, a commission member from 2004 to 2014, received a "reprimand" fro failing to declare off-shore company and income while receiving an EU allowance.

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EU lawmakers and member states have struck a political deal on the first-ever EU-wide directive on whistleblower protection - following years of big tax-evasion revelations and the laundering of dirty money in European banks.

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Germany's anointed new leader has echoed France in calling for EU reform to combat populism - but with a stronger role for national governments and with little prospect of sharing German wealth.

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