Published On: Tue, Nov 21st, 2023

Investigative journalism consortium dives into the ENNIA-saga

PHILIPSBURG — The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has published an article about the dispute between ENNIA’s majority shareholder Hushang Ansary and the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten under the title: A US billionaire took over a tropical island pension fund – then hundreds of millions of dollars went missing.

Consortium-journalists interviewed Ansary for the article, but he did not give them anything.

The journalists found that Ansary set up shell companies with the help of PwC Cyprus and that he oversaw a series of transactions that drained Ennia’s pension fund.

The article describes Ansary as a major donor to Republican causes in the United States and a friend of the Bush family and Henry Kissinger. It furthermore mentions many of the circumstances of the dispute StMaartenNews.com reported in earlier articles.

ICIJ focused on the role of the London-based accountant firm PwC and spent hours speaking with Ansary. The consortium reviewed extensive financial records and court documents “that paint a troubling picture of PwC’s role with Ennia. PwC helped Ansary establish offshore shell companies “that helped Ansary minimize taxes and participated in complex maneuvers that Curacao authorities later said wrongfully deprived Ennia of hundreds of millions is assets.”

After the central bank took control of Ennia in 2018 through an emergency measure, PwC continued to set up new shell companies in Cyprus and Texas that are tied to Ennia.

Remarkably, 96-year old Ansary told the journalists that he stays healthy “in large part so that he can fight back against Curacao authorities.” According to Ansary the central bank is leading an international scheme that seeks to take his honestly earned money. “I think this is the Ponzi scheme of the century, and I cannot do anything about it,” he said.

ICIJ wrote that the offshore movements of Ennia-linked money are detailed in internal records of the Cyprus office of PwC. The findings are part of Cyprus Confidential, an investigation led by ICIJ and Paper Trail Media with 67 media partners.

In 1967 Ansary became Iran’s ambassador to the United States. In 1975 he signed a major deal that included an agreement for the US to help Iran develop nuclear energy.

Two years later Ansary grabbed the top job at Iran’s national oil company. A year later he left, months before a revolution sent the shah packing. Ansary settled down in Houston the heart of the booming Texas oil industry, where he went into business with Kissinger and Frank Carlucci, who would later become Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan.

In the early eighties Ansary invested in the Mullet Bay Resort and Casino in St. Maarten. Kissinger sat on the board of the company and Carlucci became a part-owner.

Ansary told ICIJ that his interest in doing business in the Caribbean was motivated by goodwill. “The idea was not to go and make money on the islands,” he is quoted as saying, adding that he intended to use money he made in the US for job creation, job security and economic benefit to the islands. “The intention was to give them a helping hand.”

The article refers to Servaas Houben who was the head of Ennia’s actuarial department from 2013 to 2018. Houben got concerned already in 2010 when he saw how hundreds of millions of Ennia-money had been invested in Ansary’s company Stewart&Stevenson, a manufacturer of military, oil and gas equipment.

During an interview that lasted more than four hours, Ansary rejected claims that he had mismanaged Ennia-funds. “I took a poorly performing firm and made it more profitable,” adding that Ennia could benefit from the new investment firm he set up, EC Investments.

“This was designed in order for Ennia insurance companies not to be subjected to the shocks of the market place.”

After he bought Annia in 2006, Ansary and his wife Shalah donated more than $13 million to mostly republican politicians in the United States, including a $2 million donation to the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017.

The central bank has accused Ansary of using millions in Ennia-funds to support unrelated causes in the US, including contributions to George W. Bush, a foundation associated with the Bush family and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.  The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas contains an Ansary Gallery.

Ansary told ICIJ-journalists that he had used PricewaterhouseCoopers to navigate global taxation treaties. “We had no tax obligations in Curacao as a result of that network.”

In December 2018 PwC registered a shell company linked to Ennia in Cyprus, called Onafield Ltd. The only officers of this company are Cyprus-based stand-in directors affiliated with PwC.

ICIJ discovered that Ansary is listed as the owner of Onafield, even though it was a subsidiary of Ennia that was already under the control of the central bank.

The consortium found unsigned invoice payment records in internal PwC documents for Onafield between 2019  and 2022. The documents list as the intended signatory Abdallah Andraous, a co-defendant in the central bank’s litigation against Ansary.

Rutsel Martha, Andraous’ attorney, said that his client has nothing to do with Onafield. “Mr. Andraous has never heard of this company.”