Greg Wyler: The offshore Schemes of the American Satellite King

Greg Wyler's OneWeb is working to provide global, satellite-powered high-speed internet services. Image: OneWeb

Greg Wyler is a prominent figure in the world of telecom. Elected the industry’s most powerful personality in 2017, the 50-year-old American engineer and business leader is famous for combining innovation, business success and social responsibility to bridge the digital divide on a global scale.

After working in Rwanda with a plan to bring broadband to the African nation’s schools, Greg Wyler launched the company O3b Networks in 2007. Its objective: to create a constellation of innovative satellites capable of bringing broadband internet to poor countries deprived of fibre optics. He also set up Oneweb, which has also launched a constellation designed to “bring internet to everyone”.

The two businesses, which Wyler left following their resales in 2016 and 2020, raised more than four billion euros from investors as renowned as Google, Liberty Global, Qualcomm and HSBC.

The American contractor is also a major customer of the French space industry: O3b Networks bought its satellites from aerospace giant Thales, launched them through Arianespace in Kourou, French Guiana, and obtained a $465 million guarantee from Coface, the French public export credit agency.

Greg Wyler’s second company, OneWeb, has been a pioneer in the race for a galactic internet, and has been challenged by competing projects from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. OneWeb has raised $3 billion to create a new type of constellation of 640 low orbit microsatellites, capable of offering broadband internet worldwide.

Oneweb has chosen Airbus as its main industrial partner. The deal has been labeled “the contract of the century” in the press and was announced in presence of French president François Hollande and Airbus CEO Thomas Enders at the Paris Air Show in June 2015. OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March 2020 after having launched only 60 satellites.

But Greg Wyler’s success story has a dark side. For at least seven years, Greg Wyler has conducted several suspicious transactions through offshore entities based in tax havens. This is revealed by the Jersey Offshore documents investigated by Nacional and Mediapart and its partners in the EIC network.

The 350,000 pages of documents are from the archives of La Hougue, a Jersey-based offshore service provider. Our previous investigation demonstrated the firm’s methods of facilitating the tax evasion of some of its clients, including the fabrication of false documents to launder money transfers in tax havens.

The documents we obtained indicate that La Hougue managed a secret trust in Jersey for Greg Wyler, whose assets were used to grant a strange circular loan, buy a flat in London and a Cartier watch.

Our documents also show that Greg Wyler and the founder of La Hougue set up a secret business in the British Virgin Islands that allowed them to siphon funds from the Rwanda-based telecom operator Rwandatel.

Wyler’s lawyer, Julie de Lassus Saint-Geniès, replied that her client believes that our documents “are at best unreliable and at worst falsified and fraudulent”, which we dispute.

Wyler denies having been a client of La Hougue, to whom he “did not ask” to “manage anything for him”. He says he “invested” in only one company created by La Hougue in the British Virgin Islands, which had operations in Rwanda. Then he sold his shares and declared all this income to the U.S. tax authorities.

“Any suggestion on your part that Mr. Wyler has engaged in tax evasion would not only be erroneous, it would be completely insulting,” writes his lawyer, adding that “Greg Wyler has no knowledge of La Hougue’s activities […], past or present.”

The trust in Jersey and the Cartier watch

For twenty years, Greg Wyler has been a friend of John Dick, the 82-year-old Canadian millionaire, who made his fortune as a real estate developer in the United States and then founded the financial services company La Hougue in Jersey, which he controlled in secret for over thirty years.

It all started in the early 1990s, when Wyler was a student and already an entrepreneur: he had his first success by setting up a computer components company, which he sold after his studies.

The young man is taking summer courses at a Suffolk Law School in Boston. There he meets a classmate, Tanya Dick, John’s daughter. Thanks to Tanya’s insistence, they meet each other. Wyler makes a strong initial impression on Dick, and the Canadian millionaire becomes the young American’s mentor. “I can certainly say that if I had not met John or had his influence or mentorship, there would not have been an O3b,” Greg Wyler told Via Satellite website.

Dick also seems to have convinced his protégé to work with La Hougue. Greg Wyler appears in La Hougue’s confidential client list, under code C0326, as a beneficiary of the Nile River Trust, a Jersey-based trust, a structure reputed for its opacity in the small world of tax havens.

Greg Wyler tells us that he does not know anything about the Nile River Trust, which he has “never heard of.”

Numerous internal documents, including memorandums and bank statements, however, link this trust to Greg Wyler, and to several transactions in which he was actually involved.

On 6 February, 2008, the American entrepreneur writes to James Wigley, an employee of La Hougue and son of the general manager. He wants to buy a Cartier watch model Tortue from a jeweller in Jersey. Wigley contacts immediately the jeweller’s to ask them to give Wyler the 15% discount that John Dick enjoyed. One week later, La Hougue buys the watch for £10,943, debiting the account C0326. That of the Nile River Trust.

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