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Is your company’s name hijacked in the Panama Papers?

The Sacramento Bee, the flagship of 29 newspapers belonging to the McClatchy Co., is published in the California city where the news and digital company is headquartered. But, like many names in the Panama Papers, the offshore has no connection to the more familiar institution. The Sacramento Bee Ltd has nothing to do with McClatchy.
The Sacramento Bee, the flagship of 29 newspapers belonging to the McClatchy Co., is published in the California city where the news and digital company is headquartered. But, like many names in the Panama Papers, the offshore has no connection to the more familiar institution. The Sacramento Bee Ltd has nothing to do with McClatchy. Sacramento Bee

The name of one of the principal newspapers owned by The McClatchy Co. has turned up in the Panama Papers – and it was a corporate hijacking of sorts.

On Dec. 2 last year, employees of the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca registered an offshore company calling itself The Sacramento Bee Ltd in the British Virgin Islands.

The Sacramento Bee, the flagship of 29 newspapers belonging to the McClatchy Co., is published in the California city where the news and digital company is headquartered.

But, like many names in the Panama Papers, the offshore has no connection to the more familiar institution. The Sacramento Bee Ltd. has nothing to do with McClatchy.

A quick perusal through the Panama Papers shows that the name was practically picked from a hat by clients eager to obtain a quick corporate identity.

The Panama Papers contain some 11.5 million emails, internal records and documents from Mossack Fonseca. The archive was leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, of which McClatchy is a partner.

In a Nov. 30, 2015, email, an employee of First/Names Group, a European corporate registration agent, queried Mossack Fonseca about registering several companies rapidly in the British Virgin Islands (BVI).

“Please note that we would like to incorporate three BVI companies a.s.a.p. and we would like your assistance in this regard. I hereby provide below the preferred options for name approval in each case,” First/Names employee Emily Aristidou, who works out of an office in Nicosia, Cyprus, wrote to Mossack Fonseca.

For one company, she presented a choice of the following names: TROY, VIVA VOCE, PANEM, Panem et Circenses and The Sacramento Bee. Aristidou received an email back suggesting that the last name was available.

“Thank you for proceeding so swiftly,” another First/Names employee, Vladimira Podlesny, a Bulgarian, responded to Mossack Fonseca on Dec. 2, 2015, the day The Sacramento Bee Ltd. formally was registered.

It’s not clear from the documents who was so eager for the company – and that may never be known. Offshore corporations guard identities of the true, or beneficial, owners, one of the reasons they are commonly used to evade taxes or harbor ill-gotten gains.

But the owners acted quickly with the new company and purchased an executive jet.

Offshore corporations have one main purpose - to create anonymity. Recently leaked documents reveal that some of these shell companies, cloaked in secrecy, provide cover for dictators, politicians and tax evaders.

A publication of jetsearch.com, Global Jet Sales, reports that Sacramento Bee Ltd. bought a new twin-engine Falcon F-2000EX-Easy executive aircraft.

Aristidou, the First/Names employee, responded to an emailed query about why the name of a McClatchy newspaper was chosen for her client.

“According to our records, there is no connection between the British Virgin Islands company ‘Sacramento Bee Ltd.’ and your newspaper. The fact that there is a company registered in the British Virgin Islands under that name would appear therefore to be a sheer coincidence,” Aristidou wrote.

Many clients seeking offshore companies want them to appear as legitimate and established as possible, and registration agents sometimes “squat” or “hijack” established names of corporations to add a veneer of legitimacy. Mossack Fonseca clients have repeatedly sought to add the name “Trump,” for example, to their corporate creations.

By picking the name Sacramento Bee Ltd., those behind the offshore entity chose the name of a newspaper established 159 years ago, before electricity had even arrived in Sacramento.

Named as directors of The Sacramento Bee Ltd. were another offshore company, Confucius Directors Limited, and a Cypriot woman, Athina Kyriacou.

All 1,000 shares were granted to a company with a similar sounding name to one of the directors, Confucius Nominees Ltd., which has a mailing address in Cyprus, a Mediterranean banking destination favored by Russian investors and oligarchs.

The same company has owned shares in 19 other companies registered in Panama or the British Virgin Islands since 2008, according to the Panama Papers archives.

A Cypriot woman with the same name as one of the directors of Sacramento Bee Ltd., Athina Kyriacou, has a LinkedIn profile that says she works for Lemissoler Navigations Co. Ltd., a diversified shipping group based in Limassol, Cyprus.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028; tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; @timjohnson4

Dale Kasler: dkasler@sacbee.com; @dakasler

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