A Russian software company hired a heavy hitter when it prepared to go public on the New York Stock Exchange, naming former U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering to its board of directors, according to newly revealed documents.
The revelation, reported by McClatchyDC.com, is among the latest to emerge from the Panama Papers, a trove of more than 11 million documents leaked from a Panamanian law firm that specialized in helping the rich, famous and powerful set up offshore companies and bank accounts to avoid taxes. The documents show how Luxoft hired Pickering in 2013 as it geared up for an initial public offering.
Pickering is not being accused of any wrongdoing, but the report does raise the curtain on high-level diplomats like him trading on their contacts and influence. Pickering, 84, served under six administrations and was U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, India, Israel, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia and to the United Nations from 1989-92.
“I disclosed about 150 interests, including that I was on this board,” Pickering, who retired in 2001 and went on to work for Boeing and other international companies, told the news service. “It is a Russian company and – obviously for tax reasons or otherwise – incorporated itself in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands. That I knew. And I didn’t see any problem with that.”
Luxoft is incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, but its operating headquarters are in Switzerland.
Pickering, who said he donated his compensation to charity, is the highest-level former U.S. official to be linked to one of the offshore companies named in the Panama Papers. The documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked to an international group of reporters, including the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and McClatchy.
Luxoft declined to comment.
“As a public company we do not respond to unsolicited enquiries of this nature,” Natasha Ziabkina, general counsel of Luxoft Group, wrote in an email to McClatchy. “Any material information about our company is disclosed through our publicly available securities filings.”
Luxoft officials, who had worked with Boeing, approached Pickering before the company went public, Pickering said.
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told McClatchy Pickering’s relationship with Luxoft did not present an ethical dilemma.
“What else is new?” asked Gillers. “Yes, people sometimes use their former government experience to do exactly this.”
Luxoft also disclosed his role in its public filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.