Trias, separatist politician and former mayor of Barcelona linked to an offshore trust

Xavier Trias, former mayor of Barcelona and one of the leaders of the Catalonian independent movement appears alongside his family in The JTB Family Settlement trust

Foto: Former barcelona's mayor Trias stands in front of an estelada (catalan separatist flag). (Reuters)
Former barcelona's mayor Trias stands in front of an estelada (catalan separatist flag). (Reuters)

The former mayor of Barcelona (2011-2015) and current speaker of the municipal group for PDeCAT, the party of Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan president prevented from exercising his power, is listed as a beneficiary of an offshore vehicle allegedly employed to conceal money in Switzerland during much of his political career.

The person in question is Xavier Trias Vidal de Llobatera. His name appears along with those of his parents and siblings in The JTB Family Settlement, a trust with which the family controlled the assets located in the Swiss branch of RBS Coutts Trustees Ltd., the exclusive private banking subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The opaque structure allegedly operating at least from 1994 to 2008, time period in which Trias was Health minister of the Catalan regional government (1988-1996), minister of Presidency (1996-2000), Member of the Spanish Parliament (2000-2004) and councilman in Barcelona (since 2003).

An internal email and other documents have now revealed the connection. The documents are a part of the Paradise Papers, a leak obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and later shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), published in Spain by El Confidencial and La Sexta and 94 other media outlets worldwide such as The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde.

Trias has always held that he has never had accounts or funds abroad

The information leaked reveals that the owners of The JTB Family Settlement were Juan Trias Bertran and María Vidal de Llobatera Bassols, parents of the political leader of the PDeCAT. In fact, the name of the trust includes his father’s initials. Moreover, along with the parents, Trias himself and his 11 siblings allegedly participate as beneficiaries.

After their father’s death on 25 November 1994, their mother was the sole living holder of the trust, a mechanism employed in tax havens to conceal the connection of one or more persons to the property, shares, bank accounts, aeroplanes, or whatever asset may be at stake.

The identity of the owners is protected whereby a system of triangulation: their names only appear in a private agreement (trust), kept in the custody of expert firms which camouflage the control of a dummy corporation run by figureheads on which, at the end of the day, the assets they wish to conceal depend on. It is impossible to know who is behind the company in actuality but even if someone where to find out they would merely find the name of a law firm.

In the case of the Trias family clan, the trust could have allegedly served to enable them to control funds deposited in the branch of the RBS Coutts in Geneva through an instrumental company domiciled in the British Virgin Islands, a string of Islands in the Caribbean considered one of the world’s largest fiscal pits.

Xavier Trías, Carles Puigdemont and Ada Colau (EFE)
Xavier Trías, Carles Puigdemont and Ada Colau (EFE)

Despite the death of the father in 1994, the structure of The JTB Family Settlement could have remained intact until 2008. However, after the death of their mother on 12 July of that year the Trias siblings activated a procedure to distribute the assets which supposedly had remained concealed until that moment: “To draft a deed of appointment regarding the distribution of 50% of the funds of the trust to 11 of the 12 beneficiaries of the trust and a deed of appointment for a sub-fund referring to one of the 12 beneficiaries of the trust.”

This textual transcription appears alongside the names of all the members of the Trias clan in an email sent at 14.31 hours on 25 November 2008, 136 days after the death of María Vidal de Llobatera. The author of the email was Tracey Francis, secretary of the Cayman Island office of the Appleby firm, one of the most famous consultants and creators of offshore structures, which at that time worked for RBS Coutts Trustees offering ways to conceal their assets to the bank’s customers. The purpose of the email was to get the opinion of a second offshore consulting company regarding the request made by the Trias family. In the reply email, this second firm considered that “no conflicts” were found that would impede such a request.

Email reconstruction of a document found in the Paradise Papers leak
Email reconstruction of a document found in the Paradise Papers leak

Trias knows nothing

In an interview in the Parliament of Catalonia granted to La Sexta and El Confidencial last Friday, the former mayor of Barcelona assured that he had no knowledge of the existence of this offshore structure. “I have no idea because I have never cared for these things. If that is true, I had no idea”. Does that mean that someone else has cared for this thing? “Well”, came Trias’ reply, “the issues of family inheritance have always been managed by my older brother, who unfortunately passed away a year ago. But the truth is that I really do not know what you are talking about (...) The things you mention seem foreign to me." The separatist politician did admit “having received inheritance money” from his mother but “not from a trust nor anything like that.” “That I’m aware of”, he added later.

Appleby and RBS Coutts have also been asked about the trust of the Trias family and the operation the children carried out to refund part of the funds but neither the firm nor the bank have made any sort of reply.

This week we have witnessed the arrest in Spain and Belgium of 11 members of the dismissed Catalan government, including its former president Carles Puigdemont, on counts of rebellion, sedition, misappropriation of funds, disobedience to authority and perversion of justice. In this context, Xavier Trias has emerged as a speaker of Catalan separatism and has defended the arrested politicians in numerous news outlets in Spain.

Thus far Trias has always held that he has never had accounts or funds abroad, even stating so in court. In October 2014 the daily newspaper El Mundo published that he owned an account in the Union de Banques Suisses (UBS) in Geneva from which he transferred to an entity in Andorra 12.9 million euros on 10 February 2013, a transaction that initially has nothing to do with the documents now being investigated by the ICIJ. Trias filed a suit against the outlet, alleging that such information was false and had been fabricated in the bowels of the State to harm a political rival.

The documents El Confidencial has had access to shed no light on the origin of the assets hidden behind The JTB Family Settlement. In 1958, the police seized the diary of an intermediary of a Swiss bank in which the politician’s father had connections. Along with the name Juan Trias Bertrán there appeared codes for three alleged accounts in Switzerland, namely: 237, E-7 and E-9. One year later the Spanish Official State Gazette (BOE) published a list of tax evaders and the sanctions imposed upon them by the Judiciary under Franco’s regime. Trias’ father was imposed a fine of 30,000 pesetas and 3,000 Swiss francs (equivalent to another 39,000 pesetas back in the day) were also confiscated. The list also included his uncle, Ramón Trias Bertrán.

Paradise Papers
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