Guillermo Lasso, the opposition presidential candidate in Ecuador’s upcoming runoff election, resigned as executive vice president of one of Ecuador’s largest banks, Banco Guayaquil, in 2012. In the current campaign, much of the international media has referred to Lasso as an “ex-banker” or “former banker.” But an investigation into Lasso’s offshore holdings and trusts, by Cynthia Garcia of Argentina’s Página/12, reveals a complex web of holding companies that obscure Lasso’s financial positions and indicates that Lasso may even be breaking Ecuadorian law with his ownership stake in a bank in the tax haven of Panama.
In 2013, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations, five Delaware-registered companies, bearing the names of cities across the world, transferred their shares in Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, Corporación MultiBG, to five trusts. Each trust just happens to bear the initials of family members and associates of Lasso. One contains Lasso’s initials — GLM — for Guillermo Lasso Mendoza (Fideicomiso Mercantil de Administración GLM). It appears that Lasso has maintained a significant stake in Banco Guayaquil through this trust.
Ownership records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Companies show that GLM trust is currently the largest shareholder in Corporación MultiBG, with a 39.5 percent stake. Together, the five trusts related to Lasso control 77.5 percent of the shares of MultiBG.
A 2014 Banco Guayaquil document, prepared for a bond issuance, reveals that MultiBG holds 78.87 percent of the $293 million in Banco Guayaquil shares. This would imply that GLM Trust currently has a more than $90 million stake in the bank; the five trusts together hold almost double that.
Despite being described as a “former banker,” Lasso has continued as the chairman of MultiBG and still presides over board meetings of Banco Guayaquil’s parent company, according to public records from Ecuador’s Superintendency of Corporations.
In his presidential campaign, Lasso has pledged to eliminate a number of taxes that have been levied on the financial sector under the administration of current President Rafael Correa. Lasso’s apparent ownership stake in Banco Guayaquil means he would stand to make millions off those tax cuts, if implemented.
But the revelations do not just concern his obscured and likely stake in Ecuador’s financial sector.
In 2007, Banco Guayaquil opened an offshore bank in Panama, Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá). A 2007 public record from Panama’s Superintendency of Banks reveals that the largest shareholder of Corporación MultiBG (the parent company of Banco Guayaquil) at the time was Andean Investments Ltd, a Cayman Island registered company. Andean Investments is no longer an active company, as it appears its shares went to the Delaware registered companies, and then, most recently, to the trusts associated with Lasso. But the record indicates the historical connections between Lasso and offshore holding companies.
In 2011, the name of Banco de Guayaquil (Panamá) was changed to Banisi.
In 2014, Ecuador passed new legislation that prevented bankers (or banks) from having subsidiaries in offshore tax havens. Panama is considered as such by Ecuador’s Superintendency of Banks.
Following the new law, Banisi transferred 100 percent of its shares to a new Panama-registered company, Banisi Holding.
The Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations docket on Banisi Holding (Folio Nº 788480) confirms Guillermo Lasso is the president and a director. Lasso’s wife is listed as a director and as the treasurer. Lasso’s son is also listed among the officers. The registry shows Banisi Holding as having $30 million in capital. The company was registered by the law firm Sucre, Arias and Reyes, based in Panama. But the corporate records do not disclose who the ultimate owners of Banisi Holding actually are.
In April 2016, following the release of the “Panama Papers,” Lasso acknowledged that he had a Panamanian company, Banisi Holding, that owned Banisi Bank.
But the paper trail continues to disguise Lasso’s apparent stake in Banisi. A 2015 audit of Banisi Holding, conducted by the international firm Deloitte, states that the ultimate controlling company of Banisi Holding is yet another Panamanian company, Pietro Overseas.
Pietro Overseas, according to the Panamanian Public Registry of Corporations (Folio Nº 735031) has capital of just $10,000. It was registered by the Panamanian law firm Aleman, Cordero, Galindo & Lee. Its directors are Marco A. San Berguido, Gina A. Martinez G., and Fernando A. Gil. The directors, who appear to be Panamanian lawyers, are associated with hundreds of companies in Panama.
Is Pietro Overseas, in reality, owned by Lasso? And does it even matter, since Lasso already admitted to owning Banisi? Either way, the public record raises significant questions about Lasso’s financial holdings both in Ecuador and abroad, if his ownership of Banisi Holding is proven in court, would appear to put him in violation of Ecuador’s laws.