Barry Simmonds is a partner in a small-time law firm in Belize, a small not very rich Central American country squeezed between Guatemala and Mexico. His principal business is setting up and servicing offshore companies and bank accounts for British, Russians and whoever else wanted to hide their money or assets.
Concealing the ownership of businesses and property behind opaque locally incorporated firms, for the purpose of tax avoidance, evasion and money laundering, was his stock-in-trade.
Those who used such services were not necessarily dishonest, but most had very good financial reasons for wanting to occult their interests, among them were public figures, including royals, politicians, show business personalities, the rich, and of course grafters of all shades.
Barry, had been looking forward to an early retirement, but ran into difficulties after carelessly drifting into business with a group of unscrupulous investors attracted by the benefits of laundering and investing their ill gotten gains in real estate, but when their business is hit by the economic fallout of the Covid crisis they reveal their true colours.
As executor of a recently deceased client's estate Barry makes a discovery he hopes will solve the problems that are threatening to submerge him...
BARRY SIMMONDS WAS UNEASY AS HE disembarked from the Iberia flight at Madrid-Barajas airport. Firmly grasping his briefcase and carry-ons he looked around anxiously as he emerged from the gangway and joined the thin crowd of arrivals hurrying along the seemingly endless one-way corridor, following the panels marked ‘Llegadas-Arrivals’.
Once in the almost empty immigration hall he tagged onto one of the unusually short lines and after a few minutes fumbled his passport across the counter at the control booth, squinting anxiously at the tight faced official through his thick glasses, wishing he could light up a cigarette.
It was Wednesday morning, June 24, a few days since Spain’s frontiers had been relaxed following a draconian Covid 19 lockdown, but it wasn’t the virus that worried him, nor was it the fact that the UK had officially quit the EU and his British passport would soon, he feared, have the same value as that of a banana republic or some other third world country.
He needn’t have worried, the attention of the Spanish police was fully focused on the health of the arriving travellers, a mere trickle compared to the pre-pandemic flow, more fearful of incoming infection than on the watch for the usual drug mules arriving from Central America on early flights, scrutinizing businessmen and tourists, arriving like him on the half empty flight from Geneva and other hubs for fever and signs of the disease.
Simmo, as his friends called him, was a longtime resident of Belize, a former British colony, a small country overlooking the Caribbean, wedged between Guatemala and Mexico, where he was the surviving partner of a small local law firm—Young & Simmonds Partners.
His business was legal services related to setting up offshore companies and bank accounts, the firm’s clientele consisted mostly of those who wanted hide their money from the taxman, many of them were ‘honest’ tax dodgers, businessmen and the like, others were much less so, crooked politicians, officials and their mafiya friends laundering ill gotten gains derived from corruption, embezzlement, extortion and plain theft.
His rather worn, but handsome leather briefcase, contained what had been discovered at the end of a complex paper chase left by a recently deceased client of his, one George Wallace.
Wallace, a Londoner, had been a good client of Simmo’s, for whom he had set up a good number of offshore shell companies over the previous decade or so, both in Belize and other Caribbean tax havens, for which he managed certain and often complex legal transactions.
Belize was barely ever mentioned in mediatised investigations into tax havens, it was too poor, less glamorous compared to the Bahamas or the Cayman Islands. In the book The Panama Papers, described as ‘the biggest leak in the history of data journalism’ by the American whistleblower, Edward Snowden, Belize was cited just twice, very briefly, and in the Laundromat it was cited just once in passing.
Wallace had kept a low profile, very discreet, maintaining nothing more than polite contact with his close neighbours, though he often entertained business friends, who included Russians, Cubans and Venezuelans, at his spacious villa that lay on the edge of the forest, between the Rio Bravo Conservation Area and the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, about an hour’s drive to the north-west of Belize and its airport.
Wallace used Simmond’s services to create the kind of legal fronts needed to manage his clients’ business in safe havens, the safer the better. His business consisted of laundering their dirty money with the ultimate goal being investment in upstanding prime property in London and other European capitals, the trouble was some of his clients’ dollars were simply too dirty, and even London, though it wasn’t too regarding, had its limits.