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FWT: Miami Herald Pandora Papers: A mega wealthy man from the region’s poorest country — and his Miami palace


 

BY KEVIN G. HALL AND JACQUELINE CHARLES

 

When the Jeffrey Epstein estate needed to sell off assets to compensate victims and cover litigation costs, retired Haitian businessman Gilbert Bigio was the man with the money. He purchased the disgraced financier’s Mercedes Maybach sedan in Paris for a cool sum of about $132,000. The sale is buried at the end of a 418-page document accounting for the estate’s finances in the third quarter of 2020. Nothing indicates how and why the man considered one of the richest if not the richest person in Haiti knew to snap up Epstein’s chariot for a bargain. (Today’s cheapest models start at $185,000.) 

Bigio, 86, is a well-known power broker in Haiti’s political circles. When Haitians talk about families that run the country, the Bigios invariably come up. A new and massive global leak of secret offshore shell company documents shows just how far-reaching his empire stretches — and how the Caribbean’s wealthy elite have for decades masked their fortunes and protected their assets through offshore shell companies that point to Swiss bank accounts. Dubbed the Pandora Papers, the leak involves more than 11.9 million documents from 14 global offshore service providers — companies or law firms that create offshore entities, often with obscure and complex ownership structures. 

Collectively, the Pandora Papers show how the wealthy elite across the globe shield, even hide their fortunes. There are legitimate reasons for seeking the anonymity a shell company provides. Secrecy can prevent a seller from jacking up the price if the buyer is a celebrity, smooth the process of a merger in the works or enable an individual to legally minimize their tax obligations. But offshore entities also can wall off revenue entirely from taxing authorities, hide stolen money and obscure illicit drug profits that can be funneled into corrupting government officials and law enforcement.

 Bigio retired as CEO of the GB Group in 2018, and is frequently referred to as a billionaire, yet hails from the hemisphere’s poorest country. It’s a nation torn apart by earthquakes, corruption, gang violence and this summer’s horrifying assassination of the president. The Pandora Papers show the Bigios, sometime Miami residents, used offshores in multiple tax havens and moved wealth to Miami and to Switzerland.Continue reading

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