Barbados investigating reports on offshore business

The International Business Unit is investigating a report that places a Barbados-registered offshore company at the centre of an alleged multi-million-dollar international crime ring.

Minister of International Business and Industry Ronald Toppin however revealed that in the absence of an overseas conviction, it would be difficult to take any significant action except to prohibit the company from continuing to operate here.

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article published earlier this month identified Hyuna International, which operates from Hastings, Christ Church, as being allegedly involved in a scheme that uses a network of streaming websites to scam thousands of internet users.

The investigation by Radio-Canada claims that Hyuna runs the websites while Montreal-based marketing company AdCenter reportedly lured users to the site through “false promises” and “misleading advertising”.

“This network uses a complicated web of hundreds of nearly identical websites and offshore shell companies to evade scrutiny, according to sources and experts cited in the report,” CBC contended.

“Unlike other affiliate marketing companies, AdCenter has only one client: Hyuna International. Its affiliates are only paid when they convince someone to use their credit card information to sign up to one of Hyuna’s sites.

“These sites contained bogus video players or downloading buttons that fooled users into thinking they were getting what they wanted, but instead led them to a signup page, the investigation found. All users had to do – or so they were made to think – was provide their credit card information to begin a free trial to access all the content they could ever want,” the report explained.

When contacted, Minister Toppin revealed that the matter is under investigation, but with no evidence of an overseas conviction, the International Business Unit would be determining what action, if any, should be taken.

Toppin however added that the company’s licence to operate out of Barbados expires at the end of June, after which, they would have to apply for a new Foreign Currency Permit.

“So it is something that we are investigating, but with there being no conviction at this stage, it will make it fairly difficult for us to take action. But the fact that this report is out, obviously if they apply for a renewal of their licence, obviously all things will be on the table for consideration to make a determination as to whether the licence should be granted,” the Minister told Barbados TODAY.

Officials at the offshore company could not be reached for comment but according to Toppin, their directors have retained legal counsel both locally and abroad.

Executive Director of the Barbados International Business Association (BIBA), Carmel Haynes has also expressed concern about the developments, but maintained confidence in the government’s regulatory arms to respond to the concerns appropriately.

Haynes revealed that at the end of the year, Hyuna opted not to renew its membership with the association.

“Obviously it is very concerning, in as much as Barbados has to protect its reputation and obviously once these things are brought to the attention, we would expect the relevant authorities here to do whatever necessary investigations they would have to do to ensure that no criminal activity is actually taking place on Barbadian soil,” Haynes declared.

“At the end of the day, I know the regulatory arms of the government over the past year have stepped up their efforts. They conduct regular audits, conduct on-site inspections and things like that. So I cannot say they are not doing the necessary because I don’t know if they were aware of this,” she added.

Ultimately, neither Haynes nor Toppin is convinced that the developments will severely affect the country’s standing as a destination for legitimate off-shore business.

“I would not pick on it as one thing to say that our efforts to be an attractive global business jurisdiction are going to go out of the window, because we have over 4,000 entities registered here,” the BIBA president said.

Minister Toppin added: “Certainly at this stage, I don’t see how a statement based on an investigation, unsubstantiated and unproved up to this point, should damage a country’s reputation.”
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