This Luxembourg Businessman Got Europe’s Corporate Registries Shut Down. But Whose Privacy Was He Protecting?

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Why did a man who runs a private aircraft company become a central figure in rolling back corporate transparency across the continent? As it turns out, Patrick Hansen has secrets of his own — including multiple ties to wealthy Russian business figures.

Key Findings

  • Hansen has been the owner or director of over 110 companies registered in countries around the world, including well-known secrecy havens like Belize, the British Virgin Islands, and Luxembourg.
  • Many of the companies he directed had Russian owners. One belonged to the family of a legislator from the ruling United Russia party and was used to manage staff for a yacht.
  • Another, whose owner is hidden, had a large Russian real-estate portfolio and $99 million in cash on hand.
  • The firms also tie Hansen to a former Gazprom executive, an Iraqi businessman implicated in a corruption scandal, a former KGB agent, and the father-and-son owners of one of Russia’s largest underwater pipeline builders.
  • The aircraft company Hansen runs, Luxaviation, got nearly 100 million euros in loans from the pipeline tycoons, fueling its expansion from a small European firm to a business with global reach.
  • Experts say someone who appears as a director for hundreds of companies is likely a proxy.

Until November, Luxembourg native Patrick Hansen was best known as the CEO of a private aircraft company that has flown luminaries like King Charles III and members of the Belgian royal family.

Then a lawsuit he filed against Luxembourg’s business registry catapulted him into the public eye for very different reasons. Hansen was fighting back against new EU anti-money-laundering rules requiring all companies to publicly disclose their owners, claiming his safety could be put at risk if the public learned which companies he owned. The Court of Justice of the European Union agreed, ruling in his favor and effectively closing down publicly accessible beneficial ownership registers, not only in Luxembourg, but all over Europe.

Transparency advocates decried the ruling, which made it much harder to trace dirty or questionable money. OCCRP and other investigative outlets have published dozens of stories on corruption that would not have been possible without access to information on company ownership.

Journalists also wondered why Hansen was so preoccupied with hiding his tracks. After all, his role at the airline company, Luxaviation, was public and widely known. Why was he refusing to declare its owner? OCCRP and its partners in several European countries decided to investigate.

What reporters found does not explain precisely why Hansen filed his fateful lawsuit or whether he appreciated its far-reaching ramifications. (The businessman told OCCRP that he had only been trying to protect his own privacy and had not wanted the registries to be closed). But it does show why he — or his business partners — might have an interest in corporate secrecy.

As it turns out, Hansen is, or has been, the director or owner of at least 117 companies in Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, the Bahamas, and other countries around the world.

His directorships tie him to two wealthy Russian businessmen operating in the gas business, including one who played a key role in building the strategically important Nord Stream 2 pipeline. One of these businessmen and his son also loaned Luxaviation nearly 100 million euros, fueling its rapid expansion from a small European firm to a private jet company with global reach.

Much of this money arrived in Luxaviation’s accounts through companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus — jurisdictions where ownership information is hidden under the veil of the same corporate secrecy that Hansen fought for in the European Union.

In another instance, companies directed by Hansen — and owned by a former executive of a subsidiary of Gazprom, the Russian state energy concern — helped move millions between the British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg, and the U.K. via opaque loan agreements, for reasons that remain unclear. Still other companies Hansen directs are linked to the family of a former Russian regional governor and an Iraqi businessman implicated in a major corruption scandal.

The large number of companies Hansen is involved in, especially those in offshore jurisdictions, suggests he may be acting as a proxy — fronting companies on behalf of someone else rather than engaging in genuine business — and helping conceal the movement of funds, according to anti-money-laundering expert Graham Barrow.

“When someone’s name appears as a director for multiple companies, and all the more so when it is approaching a hundred, it is simply not possible to act in an executive capacity for all of them,” he said after reviewing OCCRP’s findings. “In my experience, this number of directorships is strongly associated with being a ‘proxy,’ while, in reality, others operate behind the scenes.”

Konrad Duffy, a financial crime expert at the German nonprofit Finanzwende, offered a similar assessment: “It is hardly possible to manage a hundred companies at the same time,” he said, calling Hansen’s large number of directorships “suspect.”

In all of these cases, Hansen and his business associates seem to have taken advantage of jurisdictions that promise corporate secrecy, like the British Virgin Islands. Luxembourg itself was such a haven before it set up its beneficial ownership register in 2019 to comply with new EU rules. OCCRP and its partners were only able to learn who owned most of these companies by drawing on leaked information from the Pandora Papers. (The Pandora Papers is a global investigation into millions of confidential records from offshore service providers leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and shared with media outlets around the world, including OCCRP.)

Transparency advocates say corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion can flourish in environments where company ownership is secret.

“It’s not just an anti-corruption thing,” added Helen Darbishire, a transparency activist who founded the advocacy group AccessInfo. “Public access to [beneficial ownership] records has many more benefits. For entrepreneurs, it is important to know who they are doing business with. … A citizen has the right to know who is the ultimate owner of the media [they consume] or to know if a product they consume is produced by a company owned by a Russian oligarch.”

Transparency is also a moral issue, said Duffy.

“Public access is important for a cultural change, away from the belief that there is a right to anonymous corporate structures, towards a more transparent and honest system.”

🔗Why We Published This Story

Patrick Hansen has argued in court that his corporate holdings should not be exposed because of risks that he might be kidnapped or that his personal safety could be compromised, so OCCRP took the decision to publish this story very seriously.

Editors decided it was in the public interest to examine Hansen’s corporate interests, both because of the significance of his lawsuit and because Hansen himself has revealed a great deal of personal identifying information about himself on social media over the years.

“As journalists, we must balance concerns about Mr. Hansen’s physical security against the safety of the people of Europe. If he is acting as a Russian proxy, he has empowered Russian interests to change European laws in a way that could protect corruption, hide dark money flows and possibly even shield malevolent state interests. With a hot war on the edge of Europe, those interests are clearly contrary to those of the EU,” said Drew Sullivan, publisher and editor-in-chief of OCCRP.

In the days following the Court of Justice decision affirming Hansen’s request to be excluded from the UBO registry, countries across Europe closed public access to their own registries. Sabine Grützmacher, a German member of parliament, called it a “hard blow” for journalists and transparency advocates, one that could make their work “impossible.”

“It is a very clear step backwards,” agreed Helen Darbishire, an activist specializing in the right to access information and head of the NGO AccessInfo . “The immediate impact that we are seeing is that many NGOs and journalists are finding it difficult to do national and, above all, international investigations. This is highly problematic.”

Hansen also has an extensive social media presence that he uses to share personal details about himself and his family. He has used Facebook’s “check-in” and geotagging feature to publicly share his whereabouts, including in public locations such as airports, a polo club, and the Duomo of Milan . Even on the day of the European Court of Justice ruling, he uploaded a video to his publicly accessible Instagram page showing himself strolling through a Japanese garden in Kyoto. He told OCCRP that he was careful about what he posted, and did not see a contradiction between using social media and seeking privacy in his business arrangements.

He insisted that he had never intended to get the registry shut down, but had only been trying to protect his own right to privacy. And he reiterated that he had genuine security concerns that led him to ask for an exemption to the EU rules. “If you go to a seedy part of town, do you write on your head how much money you have in your pocket?” he said. “No, you don’t.… I feel it is just the right of a citizen to be concerned for their security.

Hansen told OCCRP that all his businesses were in full compliance with anti-money laundering regulations, and that any loans he received had moved through banks with careful compliance checks.

“This is not money that comes in suitcases,” he said.

He conceded that he did run a “more than average” number of companies, but he said he had a large staff to help him.

“You ask yourself, ‘How can Patrick do that?’ Fair question. Sometimes I ask myself also. I work late. I am working more than 12 hours [per day]…” he said. “I do not have hobbies like playing football or playing ping pong. I spend my time working.”

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