DTI acts to wind up offshore insurer

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The Independent Online
AS PART of a widespread crackdown on offshore insurers, the Department of Trade and Industry has served a winding-up petition on California Pacific Casualty Insurance, an international insurer specialising in high-risk building insurance that clai med tobe licensed by a fictitious Pacific island.

The petition, presented to the London High Court this month, was accompanied by a similar petition to wind up the Antigua-registered West Point Insurance Company. Hearings will take place in January.

According to the DTI, California Pacific and West Point have been offering commercial property and marine insurance through UK intermediaries. However, neither company is authorised to conduct UK insurance business.

The London insurance market had been expecting the petition. In the US, the California Insurance Department has banned California Pacific and West Point from the state, largely on the grounds of having "unreliable assets". The DTI is dissatisfied with the "financial status" and "legitimacy" of the companies.

Some intermediaries had already begun to distance themselves from CalPac before the DTI action. One was Jenkinson Stubbs Insurance Services, based in Rawmarsh, Yorkshire. Early this year, it set up its Video Plus scheme to insure commercial property through CalPac. Strictly for administrative reasons, it says it is no longer involved with the insurer.

In Cyprus, D&L Underwriting Agencies has "substantially reduced" its involvement with CalPac. However, it said it found no fault with the company.

Many insurance regulators are more sceptical. Last year, the California Insurance Department banned CalPac from the state after it failed to substantiate its assets. The insurer was not licensed in Aruba, in the Caribbean, where it claims to be based.

According to the California regulator, CalPac's investment for the 1991 financial year, totalling $430.4m (£286m) was valued at either cost or the directors' valuation. While this is standard procedure, the DTI felt that in this case it created conflictsof interest. However, Jeff Reynolds, chairman of CalPac, insisted that the financial statements conformed to international accounting standards.

The California Insurance Department's suspicions were further aroused by CalPac's claim to be licensed by the Dominion of Melchizedek, a supposed floating Pacific island with a religious government that favoured, above all, commercial privacy. The islandturned out not to exist.

CalPac claims it is domiciled in Aruba and is no longer connected with Melchizedek, but Mr Reynolds still insists he is Secretary of Commerce for Melchizedek. He described the California ban on his company as "frivolous" and "bizarre".

In an independent initiative, Melchizedek sells its unique insurance licences, no questions asked, through its official "embassy" in Washington, DC, a well-known mail drop. Suitable buyers are connected to Branch Vinedresser, in California, alias Mark Pedley, a convicted fraudster who founded the fake dominion.

Melchizedek has been investigated in at least 15 cases of alleged fraud, according to Douglas McLellan, the District of Columbia's chief bank examiner. He claimed CalPac deceived regulators in the District of Columbia to obtain a corporate licence there and avoided revealing its insurance and banking interests by calling itself "California Pacific B&I Ltd".

In Texas, the fraud unit of the local state insurance department confirmed that it was investigating CalPac. The office is staffed by Dallas Bessant, the insurer's main business producer. He insists CalPac has received "unfair publicity" but "does its best to fulfil obligations".

Up to about two years ago, English-born Mr Bessant was also known as "Wise Otter" in his other role as treasurer of the Sovereign Cherokee Nation Tejas, a fake Indian tribe in Texas that specialised in placing the security of dubious offshore insurers. The tribe, which has since collapsed, was advised by the late English insurance fraudster Alan Teale.