The Luxembourg businessman who got Europe’s corporate registries shut down – and his secret offshore interests

The text is authored by Dragana Peco (OCCRP/KRIK), Alina Tsogoeva (OCCRP), Antonio Baquero (OCCRP), Tom Stocks (OCCRP), Luc Caregari (, and Carina Huppertz (Paper Trail Media).

Until November, Luxembourg native Patrick Hansen was best known as the CEO of a private aircraft company that has flown luminaries like King Charles III and members of the Belgian royal family.

Then a lawsuit he filed against Luxembourg’s business registry catapulted him into the public eye for very different reasons. Hansen was fighting back against new EU anti-money laundering rules requiring all companies to publicly disclose their owners, claiming his safety could be put at risk if the public learned which companies he owned. The Court of Justice of the European Union agreed, ruling in his favor and effectively closing down publicly accessible beneficial ownership registers, not only in Luxembourg, but all over Europe.

Transparency advocates decried the ruling, as these registries are showing who is the real owner of company. Without access to these registries it becomes much harder for journalists and transparency NGOs to trace dirty or questionable money. Journalists also wondered why Hansen was so preoccupied with hiding his tracks. After all, his role at the airline company, Luxaviation, was public and widely known. Why was he refusing to declare its owner?

What reporters found does not explain precisely why Hansen filed his fateful lawsuit or whether he appreciated its far-reaching ramifications. Hansen claims that he had only been trying to protect his own privacy and had not wanted the registries to be closed. But the findings do show why he, or his business partners, might have an interest in corporate secrecy.

As it turns out, Hansen has been the director or owner of at least 117 companies in Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, the Bahamas, and other countries around the world over the past 16 years.

His directorships tie him to two wealthy Russian businessmen operating in the gas business, including one who played a key role in building the strategically important Nordstream 2 pipeline. One of these businessmen and his son also gave Luxaviation loans, bonds or credit lines of nearly €100 million, fueling its rapid expansion from a small European firm to a private jet company with global reach.

Much of this money arrived in Luxaviation’s accounts through companies based in the British Virgin Islands and Cyprus — jurisdictions where ownership information is hidden under a secrecy veil.

In another instance, companies directed by Hansen — and owned by a former executive of a subsidiary of Gazprom, the Russian state energy concern — helped move millions between the British Virgin Islands, Luxembourg, and the UK via opaque loan agreements, for reasons that remain unclear. Still other companies Hansen directs are linked to the family of a former Russian regional governor and an Iraqi businessman implicated in a major corruption scandal.

The large number of companies Hansen is involved in, especially those in offshore jurisdictions, suggests he may be acting as a proxy — fronting companies on behalf of someone else rather than engaging in genuine business — and helping conceal the movement of funds, according to anti-money laundering expert Graham Barrow.

“When someone’s name appears as a director for multiple companies, and all the more so when it is approaching a hundred, it is simply not possible to act in an executive capacity for all of them,” he said after reviewing OCCRP’s findings. “In my experience, this number of directorships is strongly associated with being a ‘proxy,’ while, in reality, others operate behind the scenes.”

Konrad Duffy, a financial crime expert at the German nonprofit Finanzwende, offered a similar assessment: “It is hardly possible to manage a hundred companies at the same time,” he said, calling Hansen’s large number of directorships “suspect”.

In all of these cases, Hansen and his business associates seem to have taken advantage of jurisdictions that promise corporate secrecy, like the British Virgin Islands. Luxembourg itself was such a haven before it set up its beneficial ownership register in 2019 to comply with new EU rules. OCCRP and its partners were only able to learn who owned most of these companies by drawing on leaked information from the so called “Pandora Papers”.

A November ruling to close public access to corporate ownership data has been decried by transparency campaigners and journalists.

Transparency advocates say corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion can flourish in environments where company ownership is secret.

“It’s not just an anti-corruption thing,” added Helen Darbishire, a transparency activist who founded the advocacy group AccessInfo. “Public access to [beneficial ownership] records has many more benefits. For entrepreneurs, it is important to know who they are doing business with. … A citizen has the right to know who is the ultimate owner of the media [they consume] or to know if a product they consume is produced by a company owned by a Russian oligarch.”

Transparency is also a moral issue, said Duffy. “Public access is important for a cultural change, away from the belief that there is a right to anonymous corporate structures, towards a more transparent and honest system.”

Hansen told OCCRP that all his businesses were in full compliance with anti-money laundering regulations, and that any loans he received had moved through banks with careful compliance checks.

“This is not money that comes in suitcases,” he said. He conceded that he did run a “more than average” number of companies, but he said he had a large staff to help him.

“You ask yourself, ‘How can Patrick do that?’ Fair question. Sometimes I ask myself also. I work late. I am working more than 12 hours [per day]…” he said. “I do not have hobbies like playing football or playing ping pong. I spend my time working.”

The companies that OCCRP and partners found were registered in countries around the world, including well-known secrecy havens like Belize, the British Virgin Islands, and Luxembourg. The 90 companies Hansen directed often had “beneficial owners” from Russia.

  • One, Sigrun Finance in the British Virgin Islands, was owned by the wife and mother of Vladimir Gruzdev, a legislator for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party. They used its subsidiary in the British Virgin Islands to manage yacht staff. They also used Sigrun to buy a nearly €2 million stake in one of Hansen’s companies in Luxembourg. 
  • Another company directed by Hansen, this one based in Cyprus, has a large real-estate portfolio in Russia, including an apartment complex, business center, and multiple plots of land in Moscow. It also had $99 million in cash on hand as of 2019, according to its most recent available accounts.  Its owner is hidden from the public view since Cyprus shut down its beneficial ownership register, but a clue might be found in the fact that it co-owns several real estate businesses with Gruzdev’s son, Grigori.
  • Hansen also directed a Luxembourg firm owned by Alexei Bazhenov, a Russian investor and former executive at Gazprom subsidiary ZAO Yamalgazinvest. 
  • The Luxembourg company, in turn, owned two of Bazhenov’s companies in the British Virgin Islands. They all loaned millions of euros and pounds back and forth in complex arrangements whose purpose is unclear.
  • Bazhenov and Hansen also co-directare also co-directors of several UK companies that hold commercial real estate across the country.
  • Closer to home, Hansen is the director of three Luxembourg-based companies owned by Nasir Abid, a controversial Iraqi businessman implicated in acting as an accomplice in misuse of corporate assets in the “Elf Affair,” one of the biggest corruption scandals in French history.
  • A Luxembourg company created by Nikolai Bogachev, a former KGB agent, to explore for oil in Africa.
  • Sixteen companies owned by Russian businessman Valeriy Kolikov and his son Alexander. The Kolikovs work in the maritime and natural resources sectors; their company MRTS is one of the biggest underwater pipeline builders in Russia.

But they were using European companies to conduct at least some of this business, using a group of Cyprus-based firms to own and manage ships, send construction materials to Russia, and move money.  These companies are, or at some point were, all owned by a Luxembourg company: Maritime Construction Services SA, which Hansen directs on behalf of its owner, Alexander Kolikov.

This wasn’t only the link between Hansen and the Kolikovs. Even as Hansen directed the family’s businesses, they seem to have been key to Luxaviation’s success.

Hansen, who is now 50, spent several years in the 2000s working as a consultant in Russia, then co-founded Luxaviation in 2008 alongside Nikolai Bogachev, a former KGB agent who became an oil magnate after the fall of the Soviet Union. Bogachev denied this, telling OCCRP reporters he could not explain why his name was on the company documents and that he was not involved in Luxaviation.

Bogachev left the company the following year, documents show, and Hansen became CEO in 2010. Under his management, Luxaviation began to expand rapidly, snapping up a series of European competitors, including the major Swiss private jet firm Execujet. In a 2019 profile in Luxembourger Wort newspaper about his business success, Hansen dismissed “reports that speak of investments by Caribbean companies.”

“We are a public company and 33% belongs to the Chinese group Minsheng Investment, the remaining 70% belongs to investors from Luxembourg or Belgium,” he said. “Extremely sobering for people who are looking for scandals.”

But OCCRP learned that the company’s shopping spree was at least partly financed by massive loans from offshore companies owned by Alexander Kolikov, the maritime millionaire’s son, as well as another Russian investor. Here’s how the money flowed in:

Nick Mathiason, director of the financial investigative journalism center Finance Uncovered, said it was unusual that Luxaviation had received such large loans from offshore companies owned by prominent Russian citizens.

“To my mind it raises questions as to why these enormous loans were necessary, what the loans went towards, and what the lenders got in return,” he said.

Hansen told OCCRP that while the Kolikov family had indeed funded Luxaviation, they had not put €100 million into the company. He declined to name the exact figure, but said he had repaid many of their loans already, and that he had always been fully transparent about the financing of Luxaviation.

“I’ve raised money through many different sources over the last 12 years,” he said, adding that it was no secret he had received loans from British Virgin Islands companies, and there was no law requiring him to disclose those companies’ owners.

He said none of his Russian business partners had been sanctioned, and that attitudes in Europe toward Russian investment had been very different in the years before the war in Ukraine.

“I understand that I am involved around the world with a whole series of more or less interesting characters. That’s far from being a crime.”

Valeriy and Alexander Kolikov declined to comment, as did Alexei Bazhenov.

Today, Luxaviation claims to be the second largest private jet company in the world. According to its website, it operates more than 260 jets and helicopters. Hansen is also the co-founder and partner of two Luxembourg-based investment companies, Saphir Capital Partners and Edison Capital Partners, according to a biography on one of his company websites.

The biography doesn’t mention the dozens of other companies in Luxembourg, Cyprus, the UK, Belize, and the British Virgin Islands that Hansen is involved in.

Barrow, the anti-money-laundering expert, said it was impossible to say for sure what Hansen was doing, but some of his dealings appeared to have “red flags” that should mark them for further investigation.

“The appearance of seemingly unnecessary complexity within a corporate structure, especially when that involves numerous different jurisdictions, including those labeled as ‘offshore,’ is typical of structures put together to obfuscate the flow of money, often to hide its illegitimacy,” he said.

Hansen told OCCRP that he had never intended to get the registry shut down, but had only been trying to protect his own right to privacy. And he reiterated that he had genuine security concerns that led him to ask for an exemption to the EU rules. “If you go to a seedy part of town, do you write on your head how much money you have in your pocket?” he said. “No, you don’t.… I feel it is just the right of a citizen to be concerned for their security.”

Meanwhile, following the court ruling in Hansens favour, Europe has to rework its corporate transparency rules. The EU Court of Justice declared the latest version of the EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (AMLD 5) invalid, re-establishing a previous version that was allowing access only in case of “legitimate interest”. Because of this term, many beneficial owner registries in Europe could remain closed to the public and journalists for a long while, fears MEP Paul Tang, who is responsible for drafting a legislative proposal for the directive in the EU Parliament.

“We need a short-run solution, but at the moment I don’t see a good option on the table,” the dutch social democrat told Investigate Europe and OCCRP. “I am worried that referring to “legitimate interest“ will practically impare access for journalists and NGOs.” According to Tang it could create “huge bureaucratic hurdles” as a definition might be legally possible but hard to implement in practice. He states: “The work of anti-money laundering organisations and journalists is essential to make the anti-money laundering directive function. Their access to the registries need to be guaranteed.” The European parliament is supposed to agree on a position on the issue within the coming weeks and to then negotiate with Council and Commission on a legal solution.

Editing & Contributions: Elisa Simantke
Graph: OCCRP

Header image: Pit Wagner ( O’Brien (OCCRP)