Sunday night, TV news broadcast «Aktuaalne kaamera» unveiled the first name of an Estonian mentioned in the Panama Papers: Kalle Norberg, who provided services to many a super rich in Estonia and ended up in debt.
One of the latter, businessman Marcel Vichmann opted to sue him and Mr Norberg was declared bankrupt which made Mr Vichmann a creditor. By now, however, the bankruptcy proceeding has lost steam and Mr Norberg, initially under prohibition for business, essentially walks free.
However, allegedly the latest data on a contact by Norberg-owned company with Mossack Fonseca date from 2014. Though Mr Norberg has owned a company in Panama and sold it, he said the leak did not reflect that transaction. Had that been the case, interest might be aroused in certain creditors as while the bankruptcy proceedings died down in 2014 the claims against Mr Norberg were still pending.
According to his then trustee in bankruptcy, Lextal law office partner Urmas Ustav, the proceedings could be revived in case information is provided, but that would be up to creditors. «This is the initiative of creditors and whatever follows may not be just a matter of a bankruptcy proceeding – should it turn out that debtor has hidden his assets from trustee in bankruptcy and creditors, this will be criminally punishable,» said Mr Ustav.
Mr Norberg, however, says he sold his firm in Panama as early as end of 2009 or beginning of 2010. He says he has been involved with the jurisdictions of Luxembourg, Holland and Switzerland, but has not had much to do with offshore companies. He did not deny that the firm in his ownership had a contract with Mossack Fonseca, but said he had inherited it from the earlier owner of the company.
Marcel Vichmann said the situation would not be much altered even if it should surface that Mr Norberg did transactions in panama in 2014 as for him this story is over and he does not believe Mr Norberg had any assets there. «And even if it’s like he has some assets there, then I believe they are hidden so it will be impossible to prove anything legally. It seems to me the process would be hopeless. But let me say again that I do not believe he would have personal assets there,» said Mr Vichmann.
He does not deny that Mr Norberg has provided services for his companies as well. «Well he provided all kinds of services to many. I would not deny that he provided services to many of my forms in Estonia as well so God knows what he arranged over there. But this is the first time I hear of the name if that law office and I do not remember that any Panama would ever have been mentioned at all,» said Mr Vichmann.
Eesti Ekspress the weekly has written that in addition to Mr Vichmann, Mr Norberg was in business contacts with people like Hans H. Luik, Arnout Lugtmeijer, Igor Pihela and other businessmen.
Trails lead to Kruuda
According to Mr Norberg, he last came in contact with Mossack Fonseca in 2014 because people had recourse to him wishing to restore their company and he was mediator of contacts related to that. Mr Norberg claims this was Hodge Bay Investments Limited which has also passed through a court case.
In that court case, a judgement entered into force at end of this January that Oliver Kruuda must pay Tax Board over €341,000 having used covert identities to evade taxes. The court judgement reads that in September 2008 a tax administrator was to Mr Kruuda’s company Valmetek Invest. During the audit, the administrator begun to suspect that Valmetek’s purchase of cheese equipment from that very Hodge Bay Investments Limited was for the purpose of tax evasion. Further investigation followed.
In the end, the debt was claimed from Mr Kruuda and not of Valmetek; this, Tax Board substantiated by the fact that compulsory enforcement of Valmetek’s tax arrears proved unfruitful. Also, Tax Board found that though the activity of a board member during the purchase of the cheese equipment featured gross negligence, the deed had expired. In Tax Board estimation, having controlled the company from the beginning, Mr Kruuda was an interested party in the transaction and the aim of the entire activity was tax fraud.
Mr Kruuda opted to contest the judgement, saying the reasons cited by Tax Board were contradictory and the claim outdated. According to Mr Kruuda, he paid €3,650,000 for the cheese equipment and not €620,000 as assessed by the tax official. Also, Mr Kruuda said he had no control in Valmetek before 2006 when he became board member.
In 2012, circuit court ruled that Mr Kruuda’s claims were insufficient and the tax arrears should be paid. In January, Supreme Court refused to proceed the matter and Mr Kruuda remained guilty ion tax fraud.