The oil industry in Peru has a chequered record. In a case at present going through the US courts, one industry giant is accused over a 30-year period of contaminating the rivers and lands of the indigenous Achuar communities – causing death, widespread poisoning and destroying their way of life.
Another company operating in the same part of Peru, Pluspetrol, has placed rather more emphasis on community relations – setting up projects to improve health and nutrition for children, households and communities. Its aim is to reduce or eliminate social risks that may lead to violence or put its business activities at risk. However, even in the case of a company apparently taking corporate social responsibility seriously, it is not easy to determine who owns the company.
When local campaigners started to research the company, they found out that Pluspetrol moved its head office from Argentinab to the Netherlands in 2000.They found the official documents that showed the company structure in databases rather than through publicly available sources, because Pluspetrol’s website did not provide the information.
Because Pluspetrol does not have operations (production or sales) in the Netherlands, the campaigners wondered why the company would locate its head office there and turned to the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) to find out more.
Companies registered in the Netherlands are obliged to submit to the Dutch Chamber of Commerce an annual report that is more extensive than the annual report the company publishes on its website. SOMO searched in the Dutch Chamber of Commerce database for Pluspetrol, found a list of subsidiaries provided in its annual report and drew a company structure.
Pluspetrol’s company structure showed that its subsidiaries in the Netherlands are so-called mailbox companies, indicated by the fact that the company does not have any employees and is hosted by a trust office, an organisation that provides mailbox companies with an address (a mailbox, rather than a physical office).
Pluspetrol also has subsidiaries in secrecy jurisdictions, such as the Cayman and British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg and Gibraltar, which have no or very low tax levels and lack transparency.
Although the location in secrecy jurisdictions is not a proof of any illegal behaviour, it indicates that the company may use financial structures for aggressive tax planning.This is a red flag for further investigation.