The University of Montana’s endowment allegedly has more than $30 million invested in offshore hedge funds and private equity firms held in tax havens, according to a report from Montana Kaimin, the university’s weekly student-run independent newspaper.
The University of Montana Foundation’s offshore investments include a multibillion-dollar private equity fund supporting oil exploration and deep-sea drilling, according to the report, which was conducted in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which leaked the Paradise Papers. The Paradise Papers leak contained 13.4 million files showing the offshore financial investments of some of the world’s largest corporations and wealthiest people.
According to the Paradise Papers, the University of Montana Foundation made a $5 million commitment to a Guernsey-based private equity fund known as Coller International Partners V around 2007. The fund has $1 billion invested in a joint venture with oil giant Royal Dutch Shell that included oil drilling company Xtreme Coil. According to public tax documents, the university’s foundation sold its share in the fund in 2012.
Additionally, investment portfolios from 2014 that were obtained by the Montana Kaimin show the foundation also held investments in Russian oil company Gazprom, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Brazil’s Petrobras, whose corruption scandal led to the impeachment and removal from office of former president Dilma Rousseff last year. The report also said the foundation’s top-50 equity holdings include six major fossil fuel companies, as well as tobacco companies Philip Morris International and Imperial Tobacco Group.
The University of Montana Foundation did not respond to a request for a comment on the reports from CIO. However, according to the report in the Montana Kaimin, Suzanne Peterson, the vice chair of the foundation’s board of trustees, said the board would discuss a response at its May 25 meeting.
The University of Montana is not the only public university to invest in offshore funds, as more than 100 other universities and university-associated foundations are mentioned in the Paradise Papers leak.
The only reason anyone would invest through offshore companies is to hide their money from tax collectors and/or public scrutiny, Jane Gravelle, a senior specialist at the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service, told the Montana Kaimin.
“It’s just a way to avoid taxes,” Gravelle said. “There’s nothing in the Cayman Islands, for example, except a bunch of tourists and a couple of buildings with filing cabinets. Some of these offshore companies are nothing more than a file folder.”