Opinion by Ronald van Raak, Member of Parliament
THE HAGUE – It was astonishing to see how easy it is for the rich to evade taxes. Last week, Gregory Elias, also known as the “King of Curaçao”, was heard in the House of Representatives of the Dutch Parliament.
The House is investigating tax evasion. Curaçao plays a key role and this person, Elias is a key figure. The richest can keep their money anonymous through a trust office out of the view of the tax office. According to experts, surely 150 billion euros of our wealthy compatriots are kept hidden. A network of dubious banks, shady tax advisors and unscrupulous accountants on the island makes these ‘richies’ richer.
How rich Gregory Elias is, we do not know. In 2002, he received tens of millions of euros for the sale of a trust office to Fortis Bank – and since then, his assets grew sharply. But Elias did not earn his first money in the financial sector but in the pop music. In the eighties, he made a name as a composer for, among others, Anita Meyer, who scored a number one hit in 1981 with Why Tell Me Why.
Asking questions makes sense
Curaçao is a small island, but there is a lot of money. It is also a country where the boundaries between the lower and upper world are very thin. This week was the appeal of former Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, who was previously sentenced to three years in prison. Because he was bribed by gambling boss Francesco Corallo whose financial books were audited by KPMG. Corallo has also been arrested, because of the bribe of politicians in Italy. That was done through the Fortis Bank.
Last year, I asked dozens of parliamentary questions about the way in which Curaçao allows illegal online gambling worldwide, where many criminals’ money is being laundered. This kind of public disclosure has also made sense: this week, the announcement was made that Curaçao’s telecom company (UTS) will stop facilitating illegal gambling sites. This measure was taken because of the “negative publicity” and the “damage that the company suffers as a result.” I would say, you are welcome. And you see: Asking critical questions makes sense.
“Name your price”
‘Name your price and I will toss the dice’, Anita Meyer sings in ‘Why Tell Me Why’, which became the best-selling single in 1981 in our country. Gregory Elias is a very interesting figure, which also enjoys a lot of respect in Curacao. The former musician organizes a Caribbean version of the North Sea Jazz Festival and became known in 2016 when he organized a free concert with the Rolling Stones after normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba in Havana.
But the name of Gregory Elias and its trust offices are also common in the Panama Papers, the leaked documents about international tax evasion. “I do not know many people, but many people know me,” said Gregory Elias in the House of Representatives. I do not know what Elias’ price is – and not how his dices are rolling.
However, I know that a lot of taxes is being evaded through his trust offices. It is good that these practices are now being investigated by the House of Representatives – and thus made public. Only then governments will be willing to take action and put an end to this kind of scam. And then Gregory Elias has all the time to write beautiful pop songs.