Credit: Edin Pasovic

Jurisdiction Hopping

For almost three decades, IOS Group kept shifting its focus around the globe. In doing so, it mostly evaded the pressure regulators were putting on offshore companies and the businesses that create them.

The global jurisdiction-hopping started in the early 1990s, when IOS Group specialized in incorporating Irish companies for clients of Baltic banks. From its inception, the company had one foot in each world: It operated primarily in Latvia, though it was established in Ireland as I.O.S. Financial Services in 1992.

After Ireland closed its offshore zone at the behest of the European Union in 1999, IOS Group and other Baltic corporate formation agents shifted to the United Kingdom, where laws enacted the following year made it easier to form limited liability partnerships.

That legal structure requires limited information about a company’s appointed directors or business activities and also provides a tax benefit. In the United States, limited liability corporations play a similar role.

In 2007, IOS Group and other offshore facilitators began shifting their corporate creations to New Zealand, which the World Bank has rated as the best place to do business because it’s so easy to establish a company there.

By 2010, successive money laundering scandals linked to Eastern European organized crime and arms trafficking prompted a crackdown in the country that shut down thousands of shell companies.

IOS Group shifted its geographic focus again, this time to Scotland, where the company’s website touted limited partnerships as having “no material differences to an English L.P.,” Scotland also “provides an opportunity to have a business instrument that is used less frequently,” the company said.

According to a Transparency International investigation of Scottish limited partnerships’ involvement in money laundering, the number of incorporations jumped from about 300 in 2009 to more than 5,000 a year in 2015 and 2016.

Richard Smith, an expert on the U.K. corporate register, said IOS Group incorporated at least 2,318 limited partnerships in Scotland. Longtime IOS Group partners Trinity Services and Kearny Curran incorporated as many as 4,518.

But in 2015, after a series of money laundering scandals, the U.K. began requiring LLPs in England to disclose their beneficiaries. The requirement expanded to cover Scottish LPs in 2017.

In a recent update to its website, IOS Group reposted a statement it said it initially circulated in January 2017. The announcement declared the company was “ending its existence under the unified brand of IOS.”

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