Mysterious Chinese company that bought GTT shares is actually owned by Guyanese
Georgetown, Guyana; – For years, Guyanese have been misled into believing that it was a Chinese-owned company that had bought out 20% of the government shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Ltd (GTT).
But bits of digital data scraped from the filing records of an entity that deals with company formations in Hong Kong is now showing that the actual owners of Hong Kong Golden Telecom Company (HKGT), the supposedly-Chinese company that bought the shares, is actually owned by Guyanese and a Guyanese offshore entity that has very close connections to a clique of prominent political and business figures in Guyana.
Moreover, additionally unscrambled data shows that a large Chinese company that operates in Guyana had also played a key role in the investment, and remains quiet on the sideline, as the current government struggles to understand who actually owns the company.
In essence, the shares in GTT was actually bought by a Guyanese business syndicate which had established the Hong Kong company in June 2011, (two weeks before the then government had announced that it is seriously looking to sell its 20% shares in GTT to a Hong Kong company).
So when it was announced several months later (in 2012) that Government had finalized the sale with a Hong Kong company, details on its name or its principals were evidently elusive.
Independently identifying the company or its owners was even more difficult, because of Hong Kong’s strict secrecy laws, which bars the display name of a person or owner affiliated with a company.
But around mid last year, Hong Kong entered into an information exchange agreement with about a dozen Western Countries, making it easier for countries like the UK and the United States, to dig into the identities of shareholders in several hundred shell companies that were incorporated in Hong Kong.
This was as a result of the fact that many of these front companies were being used to conceal money laundering, and other transnational crimes that can threaten the credibility of the world’s financial system.
So once the buyer of the GTT shares was identified by the government as Hong Kong Golden Telecom Company (HKGT), harvesting ownership information via third-party entities became slightly easier.
But to add more mystery to the buyer’s identities, some of the benefactors on HKGT are known shell companies that were incorporated in other jurisdictions; again with the objective of erasing the trail leading to the true identities of the owners of the Hong Kong Golden Telecom Company.
But in the end, a knitted grouping of investigative journalists from the Al Jazeera network and Guyana Guardian was able to determine that a small circle of Guyanese, including those with strong political connections, are the real principals behind the entity which had long portrayed itself as Chinese-owned.
This has since begged the question as to whether the State was aware of the true identities of the HKGT principals at the time when the then government had selectively sold its shares in GTT to the Hong Kong entity, or whether some of the company benefactors were the actual drafters of the sale.
Moreover, it also leaves one to wonder why the head of the controversial company had never come forward or why the actual owners are afraid to make themselves known.
Whatever it is, the transaction has always been shrouded in mystery, in so much that it had caused Minister of State Joseph Harmon to go on a wild goose-chase to China in a bid to meet with the company owners, but practically came back empty-handed, since there were no real owners to meet there.
And while the evident identity of the owners remains elusive to the current government, the Guyana Guardian understands that if Guyana should file financial crimes proceedings against HKGT, it will then be able to make a better case to the Hong Kong government to reveal the true identity of the company’s owners beneficiaries.
The Hong Kong registered company first came into the spotlight after the previous government subsequently identify the entity as the once-secret buyer of its then 20% shares in GTT.
And while the sale of the 20% stake in GTT had remained a largely dormant issue prior to 2016; – it became a burning subject matter when the APNU/AFC government came into power, and found out that the State had never received the remaining US$5 million (from the US$30 million sales) that was still owing by the Hong Kong Golden Telecom Company (HKGT).
(Additional reporting from Hong Kong by: Liana Wu)