I liked Nicholas. I figured if I ever actually wanted to set up an offshore company, he'd be my guy. Before I left, he offered me another insight: "If you really want to confuse people, you can have Chinese characters in your company name as well. We sell tons of them."
One last meeting remained, and this time I wanted to go a step further-to formally begin the process of buying a company.
At Overseas Management Co., housed in a three-storey pink building off Waterfront Drive, I climbed up a dingy and dirty stairwell to the second floor and entered a cramped reception. The ceiling was festooned with Christmas ornaments, and I was led not to a boardroom but to a cluttered office with a small table and two chairs. There I met with Anelena, a petite Panamanian woman with a bright smile.
I almost felt bad for Anelena, because I'd decided to present myself as a busy, uncommunicative guy who needed a company and needed it fast, and sweet Anelena seemed a little bewildered. But she did her best to accommodate me.
"Yes, we can take care of this," she began. It turned out that OMC was another company whose head office was in Panama. Anelena said she would be happy to have the Panama office e-mail me the information requirements, which included a passport, and a list of shelf companies to choose from. I asked if it would be possible to just print out the list right now and let me choose a company while I was there.
"Ehhhh, let me see."
She came back more than 10 minutes later, without a list, and began asking me questions. "You live in Canada, right? And you want to buy a company. What is the purpose of the company?"
Protection of money, I said. And confidentiality.
"Okay," she said, making a note. "I can give you the list right now. But, you know, in order that you can get the company definitely we will need a copy of the passport."
I asked if they could provide a nominee director.
"Ehhh, we have nominee directors. They are located in Panama." Anelena paused for a long moment. "Do you have a business card?"
I said I didn't.
"Uh huh," she said, and gave a nervous giggle. Twice more she mentioned that to start the process she would need a copy of my passport. All I wanted from her, I said, was that list of shelf companies.
"Mmm hmm," she said, and giggled. We chatted for a while about the lack of seafood restaurants in Road Town until I suggested she go out and get that list of companies I wanted. She left and, finally, 16 minutes later, she returned.
"These are the list," she said, laying two sheets of paper in front of me, one showing 15 names pre-checked and available for incorporation, and another with a list of 32 shelf companies ready to go in five jurisdictions.
I looked down the list of BVI companies and circled a name: Ventor Holdings Ltd. That's the one I want,
Anelena said she would send me all the requirements, repeating again the need for a passport. She asked, "What is your occupation?"
"Do you need to know that?"
"I'm an author."
Anelena paused for a second, a little taken aback. "An author?" But she made a note and recovered quickly. Once they'd received all my details and approved me, she said, I could have my company within two days.
The next morning I headed back to the Beef Island airport. My cabbie explained that his name was James, but everyone called him Handbroke. "Because when I was small I broke my hand." On the tarmac, on the way to the airplane headed to Puerto Rico, a BVI resident nodded toward a sleek white Falcon 900EX jet, its tail splashed with the image of an enormous blue eye. That's Sir Richard Branson's plane, she told me with an admiring smile; everyone knew that eye.
Richard Branson, at least, isn't trying to hide. But then, he lives here. He doesn't need to.