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Wilderness gives ‘tax haven company’ slice in its Botswana paradise

Publishing Date : 31 July, 2018

Author : TSAONE SEGAETSHO

Mountbatten Limited, a company incorporated in a commonly regarded tax haven jurisdiction of British Virgin Islands, is home and dry in buying Wilderness Holdings’ safari camp known as Xigera Camp in the tourism paradise of Okavango Delta, WeekendPost has established.


This publication understands that, Wilderness Holdings through its subsidiary Okavango Wilderness Safaris has offered to sell its offspring company, Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd, to Mountbatten― a deal which will see the tax haven based foreign corporation owning the Xigeria Camp which is based on Botswana soil. Technically, Xigera Lodge will move from the Botswana tax regime to a regarded tax haven, simply meaning the country will lose on tax revenues of a lodge build on its paradise’s soils to an offshore company in an apparent tax avoidance endeavor.


The country where Mountbatten is registered, the British Virgin Islands, is regarded by many investigators and tax experts as a hub for tax avoidance. The Caribbean Islands is regarded as a tax haven due to the absence of most major forms of taxation in the territory. This has led to the British Virgin Islands being included on most recognized lists of tax havens. The 2016 Panama Papers revealed that over 50 percent of shell companies were set up in the British Virgin Islands.


According to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a tax haven is a jurisdiction that seeks to make itself attractive to businesses and business owners seeking more favourable tax treatments than those available in their country of origin or residence.  A tax haven can also mean a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically static environment. Tax avoidance, despite it robbing countries of tax revenue, is not illegal, tax evasion is the one regarded as a crime.


One of the directors of Mountbatten is Michael Tollman who was director of Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd thirteen years ago and has been Wilderness Holdings Limited deputy chairman since 2010, according to investigations by WeekendPost. Wilderness Safari Investment and Finance Pty Ltd is a subsidiary of a selling company, Wilderness Holdings Limited.


This means Tollman, being a board member of Wilderness may have been involved in the decision making of his own company, Mountbatten, buying Great Explorations.  Wilderness is the grandparent company of Great Explorations which owns Xigera Camp.  The CEO of Wilderness, Keith Vincent, is currently director of Great Explorations.


Mountbatten, the company on the verge of buying 100 % shares offered in Great Explorations, is a giant hospitality corporation which owns hotels and lodges in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Guernsey and the United States of America. Tollman is also a director of Mountbatten’s holding company The Travel Corporation. He is a member of the wealthy Tollman family which owns a huge worldwide property and hospitality empire. His cousin Brett is the CEO of The Travel Corporation.


Brett’s father Stanley was once a director of top English Premier League team Chelsea. The former Chelsea director’s reputation took a nosedive in 2008 after he pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud and agreed to pay more than $105 million to the U.S. government in back taxes and various fraud penalties.


Speaking on behalf of Mountbatten because Tollman was abroad and requested her to respond to our questions, Bonnie Jennings told this publication that it remains an anticipation that Mountbatten Limited will acquire the shares in Great xplorations. However Jennings did not comment on Mountbatten being registered in the British Virgin Islands or whether she understands the nature of a business being taken from a certain tax regime to an offshore investment or a tax haven.


Responding via email from South Africa, Jennings said there can never be a case of tax avoidance against Botswana by Great Exploration or Xigera Lodge. She said:  “Great Explorations (Pty) Ltd will continue to be based in Botswana and will operate in exactly the same manner as it has before and shall continue to pay tax in accordance with the laws of Botswana, as it has done to date,” said Jennings.


Wilderness Commercial Director and Chief Sustainability Officer Derek De La Harpe confirmed that they have sold Xigera camp to Mountbatten. He also confirmed that Mountbatten director sits on the board of Wilderness. He however did not want to comment on the issue of Mountbatten being incorporated in a regarded tax haven but forwarded our inquiry to the Caribbean islands based entity.

Competition Authority investigating the merger

The Mountbatten acquisition of Great Explorations has also caught the eye of local antitrust body, Competition Authority (CA). Recently the CA received a merger notification for the proposed acquisition of 100% of the issued share capital in Great Explorations owned by Okavango Wilderness Safaris by Mountbatten Limited.


As a result, the Authority further seeks any person or a third party not an interested party to voluntarily submit information about the proposed merger according to section 57(3), of the Competition Act. Also, any stakeholder for or against the acquisition may send views to the Authority within 10 days from the notice, according to the Authority.

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