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Mitt Romney’s firm raised more than a third of its first investment fund from wealthy foreigners — who mostly used companies in Panama, then known for tax advantages and banking secrecy.

Los Angeles Times

By Joseph Tanfani, Melanie Mason and Matea Gold

July 19, 2012, 3:00 a.m.

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — When Mitt Romney launched Bain Capital in 1984, he struggled at first to raise enough money for the untested venture. Old-money families like the Rothschilds turned down the young Boston consultant.

So he and his partners tapped an eclectic roster of investors, raising more than
a third of their first $37-million investment fund from wealthy foreigners.

Most of the foreign investors’ money came through corporations registered in Panama, then known for tax advantages and unusual banking secrecy.

Previously unreported details, documented in Massachusetts corporate filings and other public records, show that Bain Capital was enmeshed in the largely opaque world of international high finance from its very inception.

The documents don’t indicate any wrongdoing, and experts say that such financial vehicles are common for wealthy foreign investors. But the new details come as President Obama has criticized Romney for profiting from Bain Capital’s own offshore investment entities, which are unavailable to most Americans.

The Romney campaign declined to comment on the specifics of Bain’s early investors. Romney has argued that his offshore investments are entirely proper, and that he has paid all the U.S. taxes that he owes. The offshore funds do provide tax advantages for foreign investors, allowing Bain to attract billions of dollars.

“The world of finance is not as simple as some would have you believe,” Romney said in an interview this week with National Review Online.

The first outside investor in Bain was a leading London financier, Sir Jack Lyons, who made a $2.5-million investment through a Panama shell company set up by a Swiss money manager, further shielding his identity. Years later, Lyons was convicted in an unrelated stock fraud
scandal.

About $9 million came from rich Latin Americans, including powerful Salvadoran families living in Miami during their country’s brutal civil war.

That first investment fund — used to invest in start-up companies and leveraged buyouts — paid out a stunning 173% in average annual returns over a decade, according to a prospectus prepared by an outside bank. It was the start of the private equity powerhouse that ultimately fueled Romney’s political career. He now cites his experience at Bain as a chief qualification for the White House.

Romney faced unusual complications when he launched Bain Capital, a spinoff of Bain & Co., the Boston consulting firm he joined when he graduated from Harvard Business School.

At the time, U.S. officials were publicly accusing some exiles in Miami of funding right-wing death squads in El Salvador. Some family members of the first Bain Capital investors were later linked to groups responsible for killings, though no evidence indicates those relatives invested
in Bain or benefited from it.

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