Passport Papers: A fugitive’s quest for a European passport

In November 2019, a copy of an invoice was leaked to The Shift.

On a Henley & Partners letterhead dated 23 September 2015, this invoice was made out to a company called Donnica Management Ltd in Cyprus. The description included “Cyprus CIB Program- Mr Low Taek Jho” and details of a property in Ayia Napa worth some €5 million.

It also included a “13% sales commission” to the tune of €650,000, which was to be paid to the Henley Estates account in a Maltese bank.

At the time the invoice was issued, Low was under investigation for the 1MDB scandal, one of the biggest financial scandals of all time.

The Shift found that Donnica Management was owned by a nominee called Memphisco Limited. This, in turn, had a Cypriot called Chrysostomos Tsitsios as a director. It was incorporated on 16 May 2015, just four months before the invoice was issued.

Denials and intimidation techniques

With the invoice in hand, The Shift reached out to Henley & Partners to ask them about their relationship with Low, who at that time was on the run and suspected of masterminding the 1MDB matter to the tune of $4.5 billion.

Group Head of Communications Paddy Blewer replied: “He was not and never was our client”.

Over a series of emails, Blewer made various attempts to discuss the matter on the phone, stating it “will be nice to put a voice to the articles”. He also asked where the journalist lived.

He added they had never contracted with Low or a vehicle controlled by him and had not sent the invoice to any organisation which he or his associates control.

“This document in question was not sent to Mr Low or any vehicle that he or his associates own or control. We did not invoice him for services. We did not provide him with services. We were not and have never been paid for anything by Mr Low or any of his associates or the vehicle he controls.”

In an official statement, Henley & Partners made it clear “it is therefore false to state that “Henley & Partners helped Jho Low acquire Cypriot citizenship”.

The Passport Papers investigation

Fast forward to 2021, and The Shift is part of a consortium of investigative journalists in collaboration with The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation. Over the course of several months, a leak of internal Henley & Partners documents was processed and analysed by the journalists.

The tranche of documents revealed that Low had applied to buy Maltese citizenship through Henley & Partners, but that they refused him, stating: “Entering into a business relationship would pose undue reputational risk and/or disrepute to Henley & Partners. Therefore, the prospect is not eligible to apply for any other programme or services offered by Henley & Partners”.

The documents also confirmed what The Shift found in 2019, that invoices issued to Low were paid.

But rather than severing all ties with Low, Henley & Partners Estates appear to have assisted him in buying a property in Cyprus. The company received a big chunk of commission – the €650,000 mentioned in the invoice The Shift had acquired.

Further documents indicated that another two payments were made to them for “services provided to Mr Taek Jho Low.” They totalled €32,130 to a Henley & Partners account in Cyprus, and €27,000 to a Henley & Partners account in Hong Kong.

The Shift also found additional documents confirming that Chrysostomos Tsitsios, the director of Memphisto, in turn, owned Donnica Management.

A series of introduction agreements

Donnica Management entered into an ‘Introduction Agreement’ with Henley and Partners on 12 July 2015.

According to the agreement, the company owned 27 plots in Ayia Napa, and Henley & Partners would be directing “clients” who may be interested in buying real estate properties, either inside or outside the scope of citizenship programmes, to Donnica Management.

A similar agreement was also signed in August 2017. The so-called ‘Marketing and Promotional Services Agreement’ included the definition that a client is “any individual that proceeds with a transaction with the Principal (Donnica Management) as a result of the Services provided by the Provider (Henley & Partners) and/or any individual that is already a client of the provider and proceeds with a transaction with the principal and/or group.”

Transactions were defined as the “purchase of immovable property in Cyprus related with an application for the Cyrus citizenship by naturalisation and/or by Investment Programme”.

The agreement also lays out that Donnica Management would pay Henley & Partners for services rendered, as defined by Henley & Partners depending on “various factors such as time spent for the search of a client, manpower used, representatives involved, the naturalisation scheme participated in, travelling and other expenses incurred”.

It was signed by Andrew Taylor from Henley & Partners, and Tsitsios.

Under the terms of the agreement, in force between July 2015 and August 2018, the services provided by Henley to Low would make him a client.

Low’s whereabouts remain unknown. Questions sent to him, Jynwel Capital, and Shaher Awartani got no reply.

Henley & Partners respond

Following their adamant denials in 2019,  The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation approached Henley & Partners as a part of the Passport Papers investigation to ask if they stood by their previous categorical denials.

It was understood by us that they (Henley & Partners) had indeed referred Low to an independent third party local service provider in Cyprus and that Henley & Partners Estates and Henley & Partners Cyprus acted as a broker for many developers and, therefore, any relationship with Low was due to this long standing position as an agent.

They remain adamant that no one in Henley & Partners received money directly from Low.

We further understand that Henley & Partners maintain that they have since stopped the practice of referring clients to third party local service providers. It appears that their position is that the case was identified as a one-off that should not be repeated and would not be possible today due to changes in policies.

No one involved in the case or referral at that time is still working with the company.

                           
                               
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