Boozy Latvian ‘billionaire’ is smokescreen for fraud

By Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Duncan Campbell | Published in the Sunday Times on 16 June 2013

Erik Vanagels is the stooge director of companies stretching from London to the Caribbean

AN ITINERANT, hard-drinking Latvian pensioner has emerged as one of the world’s richest men — on paper.

Erik Vanagels, 73, appears to be a billionaire with an empire that has interests in hundreds of businesses including banks, investments funds, pharmaceuticals and shipping. But it is not his. Vanagels is revealed today as the stooge director of “brass-plate” companies that stretch from London to the Caribbean.

Leaked offshore documents show that he is one of the most widely used corporate ciphers in the world. His name has been used to conceal the true beneficiaries of thousands of firms, some scandal-ridden.

Vanagels’s 13-year business career has been made possible by corporate secrecy in Britain, its overseas territories and leading world economies.

The case underlines David Cameron’s call for greater corporate transparency.

The Sunday Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have established that Vanagels and Stan Gorin, a fellow nominee director, have served on firms linked to a series of financial scandals. The stooge directors would have signed away their rights to any powers and been unaware of any alleged fraud.

The scandals include the theft of $230m (£146m) from the Hermitage Capital fund in Russia; the alleged defrauding of the Kazakh BTA Bank of £3bn, and an American Ponzi scheme.