It is a montage that can leave the uninitiated wondering. Why the current Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, also a businessman and billionaire, would use three companies including one in Monaco and another in the British Virgin Islands to buy real estate in the town of Mougins, in the department of Alpes-Maritimes ?
The “Pandora Papers”, this massive data leak from 14 offshore firms, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and shared with its partners, including the Investigation Unit of Radio France, reveal the bottom of a strange operation made possible thanks to French intermediaries.
The entrance to Château Bigaud bought in 2009 by the Czech Prime Minister. (Google Street View) ((SCREENSHOT))
At issue in this case: Château Bigaud and Casa Bigaud located in Mougins on three hectares of land. The sumptuous chateau has four bedrooms, one of which is a master with two dressing rooms and two bathrooms. In the basement, there is a billiard room, a cinema room, a fitness room with shower, a cloakroom, a sauna and a wine cellar. Like all beautiful properties in the region, the occupant benefits from a swimming pool. In 2009, the castle was completed, while the Casa was almost completed.
The real estate complex was purchased on September 25, 2009. Sale price: 14 million euros. A price “paid in cash by the purchaser at the same moment” can be read in the deed of sale. Cash, but under what conditions? According to documents from the “Pandora Papers” to which we had access, the Monegasque company SCP Bigaud was only in existence for one month at the time of the operation. She received in her bank account a few days earlier the sum of 15 million euros from Blakey Finance LTD, a company based in the British Virgin Islands. And this transfer could itself have been possible thanks to a loan agreement between Blakey Finance and Boyne Holdings LLC, a company based in Washington, which owns SCP Bigaud. Washington, the British Virgin Islands, Monaco, for a property in Mougins… The complexity of the assembly leaves one perplexed. Especially since we discover that behind each of these three companies, we find one and the same person: Andrej Babis.
The loan contract of 15 million euros is signed between two companies of which Andrej Babis is a beneficiary. (DOCUMENT HERE)
Why then did the Czech Prime Minister need to create three companies in several jurisdictions known to be opaque, and not just one to buy his residence in France? This arrangement can be used to hide the origin of the money, and try to make it look legal at the end of the day. “At the fiscal level it is completely radioactive because all that will go up, slips a real estate expert by discovering the structure of the assembly. The owner will have to justify himself.” Asked by the ICIJ on behalf of the media partners of the project, Andrej Babis did not answer our questions.
Andrej Babis was the beneficiary of a British Virgin Islands company. (DOCUMENT HERE)
This whole real estate transaction was successfully completed thanks to the work of a French lawyer. In 2009, Frédéric Barth was admitted to the Grasse bar. It is he who will take care of putting everything in place on behalf of Andrej Babis. His firm is contacted by the Panamanian law firm ALCOGAL (Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee), specializing in the creation of companies in the main tax havens. Beyond the request for the creation of offshore companies, the French lawyer took care with his team of the follow-up, the exchanges of mails, the orders of documents, the setting up of the loan of 15 million euros between companies. The documents, written in France, then had to be signed by the nominee manager, then sent by mail.
The loan granted by Blakey Finance does not appear in the deed of sale. (DOCUMENT HERE)
Among the clients of Frédéric Barth’s firm are around half a dozen other French individuals whose names appear as beneficiaries of companies in the British Virgin Islands. Until at least 2011, the lawyer himself appeared directly as the economic beneficiary of a company domiciled in the British Virgin Islands: Oaxwood Limited.
Since 2019, the lawyer has however left the dress to take the direction of a luxury real estate agency on the Croisette, in Cannes. He refused to answer our questions, explaining that he was “indefinitely” bound by professional secrecy, and recalling that he incurred a criminal sanction in the event of a violation of this secrecy. It is not known whether he is still dealing with the French real estate affairs of the Czech Prime Minister.
However, we know that in July 2016, the law firm ALCOGAL listed Andrej Babis as “PEP” (Politically Exposed Personality). He was then concerned about an investigation opened by the European Anti-Fraud Office into suspicions of embezzlement of European subsidies. The Czech Prime Minister is accused of having artificially taken out a company from his conglomerate Agrofert (agrifood, chemicals, media) in order to obtain European funds reserved for small and medium-sized enterprises. ALCOGAL notifies the Financial Investigation Agency and decides to resign from its duties as the company’s registrar. The case is now in the hands of justice. After a first drop of charges in 2019, the Attorney General reopened the case and the police recommended the indictment of the Prime Minister.
The latter is also involved in another case, which concerns suspicions of conflicts of interest. Since being appointed Prime Minister, Andrej Babis has officially stepped down as a businessman and transferred his conglomerate to two trust funds. But an audit by the European Commission indicates that it still exerts “a decisive influence” on the structure. The case was handed over to the brand new European public prosecutor’s office.