The South China Morning Post reveals a Hong Kong connection
Hong Kong firm’s cannabis promise to Cameroon casts spotlight on corporate laws
- Questions over funds raised by Trade Park Corporation, registered in Wan Chai, highlight concerns about city’s light-touch regulatory environment
The company, a subsidiary of London-based company services firm Formations House, promised to create 15,000 jobs and attract US$300 million of foreign direct investment for the remote rural commune of Meyomessala.
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Gilbert Mvondo is still waiting to be paid for carving dirt roads through the Cameroonian rainforest, where foreign investors promised to create jobs cultivating cannabis and other crops for export.
Locals say they abandoned their farms, as an area larger than the size of Central London was set aside for a “modern, technology-driven agriculture export free zone,” according to the investors’ promotional materials.
The project would have focused on producing cannabis oil in order to “establish Cameroon as a destination for the Agricultural Pharmaceutical industry.” Business plans show that would have required “ethical deforestation” of protected rainforest and “ethical rehoming of wildlife,” which would likely include endangered species such as western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and leopards.
A British firm said it had enlisted U.S. tobacco and drug companies to build a 154-square-mile cannabis farm in pristine West African rainforest and bring thousands of jobs to impoverished locals, according to internal documents obtained by NBC News.
Instead, four years after Trade Park Corporation signed its first papers with local officials, there is nothing to show for the project but angry investors, some stakes in the ground and a few dirt roads already being reclaimed by jungle. Many of the major backers touted by Trade Park, including Bayer and the makers of Marlboro cigarettes, said they’d never heard of the project, and the residents of Meyomessala, Cameroon, are left to deal, empty-handed, with the fallout from a failed dream.
“Trade Park could not honor its commitments,” Christian Mebiame Mfou’ou, mayor of Meyomessala, wrote to reporters recently when asked about the project.
Trade Park’s plans surfaced this week as part of a trove of leaked corporation records from Formations House, a United Kingdom firm that specializes in creating offshore “shell companies” for clients. Its website claims the firm has incorporated more than 400,000 firms for its customers over the course of more than 15 years. The starting price of incorporating a shell company: $26.
NBC News joined more than a dozen news organizations around the world, including The Times of London, the South Morning China Post and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, in analyzing the leaked documents.
The trove was first obtained by the activist group Distributed Denial of Secrets, a self-proclaimed transparency group formed in 2018 with a board of directors that includes hackers, journalists and an Icelandic politician. It has shared leaked material from Russian officials on that nation’s conflict with Ukraine and its work has been profiled by the BBC and The New York Times. It says it verifies the authenticity of any material it releases.
The leaked documents provide a glimpse into London’s massive company services industry, a factory for offshore shell companies that the United Kingdom’s law enforcement has said is regularly tainted by malfeasance, and to the global reach of Formations House.