How chief prosecutor at International Criminal Court owned companies in tax havens

By and Sven Becker (DER SPIEGEL)

Luis Moreno Ocampo managed companies based in some of the most notorious tax havens in the world while serving as chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, documents obtained by Mediapart and analysed by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) reveal. When challenged about his offshore financial activities the former star prosecutor said that his salary at the ICC “was not enough”. Mediapart's head of investigations Fabrice Arfi and Sven Becker of German publication Der Spiegel report.

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At the same time as he was hunting down the biggest criminals on the planet the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, owned offshore companies registered in two of the most impenetrable tax havens in the world,  documents obtained by Mediapart and analysed by the European Investigative Collaborations (EIC) reveal.

According to the statutes of the ICC the chief prosecutor, a position Argentine lawyer Moreno Ocampo held from 2003 to 2012, must be a person of “high moral character”. Moreover, it states: “Neither the Prosecutor nor a Deputy Prosecutor shall engage in any activity which is likely to interfere with his or her prosecutorial functions or to affect confidence in his or her independence. They shall not engage in any other occupation of a professional nature.”

This requirement would, on the face of it, seem incompatible with owning an offshore business based in a tax haven.

The reason why a chief prosecutor is required to be so exemplary is that the ICC pursues the worst mass killers in the world. These are men and women of high rank, heads of state, military leaders, spymasters or others who are all suspected of having committed atrocities, whether these are crimes against humanity or genocide. To ensure they are not in a vulnerable situation when faced with those they accuse – who sometimes have the resources of a state or an intelligence service to defend them – the investigators must be above any suspicion. The prosecutor is at the forefront of this group.

Luis Moreno Ocampo at the ICC in The Hague on March 3rd, 2011. © Jerry Lampen/Reuters Luis Moreno Ocampo at the ICC in The Hague on March 3rd, 2011. © Jerry Lampen/Reuters
On August 15th, 2012, just two months after Luis Moreno Ocampo left his position as chief prosecutor at the ICC in The Hague, the sum of 50,000 dollars landed in his account at the Abn Amro bank in Holland. The money, which had come via a Swiss account, originated in a company called Tain Bay Corporation registered thousands of miles away in Panama.

In the following months the money continued to flow. At least 120,000 dollars followed the same opaque route: Panama-Switzerland-Holland.

According to the documents obtained by Mediapart as part of the 'The Secrets of the Court' investigation, it appears that the two people hidden behind Tain Bay are the prosecutor Moreno Ocampo himself and his wife Elvira Bulygin. The evidence suggests that after nine years spent at the top of international justice, Moreno Ocampo was working on retrieving part of his fortune which had been put in a safe place.

Correspondence about Moreno Ocampo's company Tain Bay. © DR Correspondence about Moreno Ocampo's company Tain Bay. © DR

Tain Bay is not the lawyer's only front company. 'The Secrets of the Court' investigation shows that Moreno Ocampo was also involved with a company in the British Virgin Islands. It was called Yemana Trading and was run from Panama by the law firm Mossack Fonseca. Their name came to prominence in the Panama Papers revelations about the financial structures for the rich and powerful that enabled tax evasion and money laundering on a staggering scale.

Moreno Ocampo's wife Elvira Bulygin was meanwhile the economic beneficiary of a third offshore company, Lucia Enterprises Ltd., based in Belize in Central America. This is another well-known tax haven which has been identified by the European Union as one of the worst in the world. The former chief prosecutor at the ICC was certainly aware of his wife's company: a bank document shows that in September 2012 he transferred 15,000 euros from his personal account to Lucia Enterprises Ltd.

So why did Moreno Ocampo, the best-known figure at the ICC, hide his companies in tax havens around the world? And where did the money come from?

Financial centres such as Panama and the British Virgin islands are among the safest places in the world to stash hidden money and/or avoid paying tax. The authorities of both countries are known for keeping secret the real identity of those who benefit economically from the companies registered there, and also for being very reticent about sharing financial or legal information with other states.

Luis Moreno Ocampo certainly cannot claim he was ignorant of this. Before he was nominated as chief prosecutor at the ICC in 2003 he had built up a strong reputation for his stance on anti-corruption, first of all as a judge in his native Argentina and then as president of the NGO Transparency International in Latin America. In Argentina he had initially made his name as a prosecutor in the 'Trial of the Juntas' in 1985 against the country's former military rulers.

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'The Secrets of the Court' is the result of six months of investigation carried out by six media organisations who are members of the consortium European Investigative Collaborations (EIC), of which Mediapart is a founding member.

More than 40,000 confidential documents – diplomatic cables, bank information, various correspondence – were obtained by Mediapart and analysed by the EIC. For the first time they allow a spotlight to be shone on certain practices of the International Criminal Court, which is based at The Hague in Holland.

Together with Mediapart, the EIC partners involved in the project are Der Spiegel (Germany), NRC Handelsblad (Holland), The Sunday Times (Britain), El Mundo (Spain), L’Espresso (Italy), Le Soir (Belgium), ANCIR (South Africa), Nacional (Serbia) and The Black Sea, an online publication created by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism which reports on Eastern Europe and Central Asia.