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French far-right leader’s aides had ‘offshore system’ sending funds to HK shell companies – report

An aide to French far right party leader Marine Le Pen had set up a “sophisticated offshore system” involving shell companies in Hong Kong, according to Le Monde in its latest Panama Papers leak report.

The system was put in place between Hong Kong, Singapore, the British Virgin Islands and Panama by the close aides of Le Pen, president of the conservative National Front, Le Monde reported on Tuesday. The aim of the system was to “get money out of France, through shell companies and false invoices to evade the French anti-money-laundering services”.

A central figure in the system was Frédéric Chatillon, whose company Riwal provided communication services for candidates for Le Pen’s party. It became its exclusive service provider in 2012, the report said.

Marine Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen. File Photo: Flickr/Rémi Noyon.

“In 2012, just after the presidential election [in April] and less than a month before the legislative elections [in June], Frédéric Chatillon… withdrew 316,000 euros (HK$2,784,886) from Riwal and moved it away from France,” Le Monde said.

The report said that the money went through a Hong Kong-based shell company called Time Dragon at the time, whose parent company – Harson Asia Limited – is registered in the British Virgin Islands by Mossack Fonseca, where the leaks of Panama Papers came from.

According to the Company Registry of Hong Kong, Time Dragon was formed in April 2012 and registered at Room 1307-8 Dominion Centre in Wan Chai.

The Le Monde report said a company named Unanime France – which was related to Riwal and National Front – was involved in acquiring Time Dragon.

Dominion Centre in Wan Chai.

The Dominion Centre in Wan Chai. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A second step detailed by Le Monde showed how Nicolas Crochet, who helped Chatillon move the money, enlisted help from his brother Sébastien Crochet, in order to acquire another shell company based in Hong Kong called Ever Harvest Garments Limited.

Ever Harvest Garments Limited was founded in Hong Kong in June 2007 and registered to the exact same address as Time Dragon, according to the Company Registry.

Le Monde reported that a false invoice was issued by Ever Harvest to Unanime France to justify the transfer of funds from France to Hong Kong for the building of a political coalition website ahead of France’s legislative election in June 2012. But Le Pen’s website was in fact build by another contractor.

Sébastien Crochet – whose residential address was registered at 7 Rue du Village Esquelmes 7743 Belgique, France – became director of Ever Harvest in October 2012. Chatillon – whose residential address was registered at 39 Rue Vineuse in Paris – was named the director of Time Dragon in May 2013, according to public records.

The funds were transferred from the bank account of Ever Harvest to that of Time Dragon.

The newspaper added that Chatillon carried out one final step to move the funds to Singapore.

Time Dragon was renamed Unanime Asia in May 2014.

French far-right leader's aides had 'offshore system' sending funds to HK shell companies - report