VACCINE. A Gibraltar-based private company, related to an Israeli businessman, has offered 3 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to the Peruvian government.

Between Israel and China: The story behind the vaccines offer to Peru

Between Israel and China: The story behind the vaccines offer to Peru

VACCINE. A Gibraltar-based private company, related to an Israeli businessman, has offered 3 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to the Peruvian government.

Photo: rawf8 / Shutterstock.com

OjoPúblico reveals unpublished data providing new perspective to the offer of 3 million Sinopharm vaccines, made to Peru by Gil Segal, an Israeli businessman. Segal and a Peruvian doctor who acted as an intermediary say that their initial objective was to sell the supply to a private company. Segal refused to show documents proving his links with Sinopharm or its subsidiary. OjoPúblico also found that at least two civil lawsuits had been filed against Segal in Israel since 2012.

31 Enero, 2021

Spanish version

 

On January 12, a week after the Peruvian government announced the purchase of a first batch of Chinese vaccines, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) received a letter from Gibraltar-based company, Insight Connection International (ICI). The letter, signed by CEO Gil Segal, offered 3 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, produced by the Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm. “These vaccines can be delivered within 10-14 days of payment,” reads the letter, whose receipt was confirmed by the health authority to us.

Within days the letter was circulated around the country, including via social media and public figures. Peru is one of the few countries in Latin American that has not started its immunization campaign against Covid-19, and this offer provoked  a public debate around the efficacy of the Peruvian government for ensuring its citizens will be vaccinated. Peru’s Ministry of Health, Pilar Mazzeti Soler, was asked about Segal’s offer during a national press conference. 

Now OjoPúblico reveals unpublished information about ICI’s offer. We reveal that Segal is linked to five offshore companies in tax havens and was sued twice in Israel within the last decade. The investigation also finds that the original intention of this businessman was to sell the alleged vaccine shipment to a company in the private sector.

 

The original customer was a private company

OjoPúblico found that although the document sent by ICI offers the supply to the public sector, the initial negotiations were between the company and a Peruvian private company, that has not been identified yet.

“I never came to the government originally”, acknowledged ICI CEO, Gil Segal, in a telephone conversation from Israel. The intermediary of the Israeli businessman in Peru, Omar Neyra, confirmed that ICI originally negotiated with a private company: “It is a company that a couple of months ago saw the opportunity [to have access to Sinopharm vaccines].”

“It is a huge company in Peru which wants to buy [the vaccines] privately and bring them", said Gil Segal.

How did the offer come about? Segal explained that one of his contacts in one of Sinopharm subsidiary, China National Biotec Group (CNBG), asked him “if I knew of any country interested in getting vaccines, as we could enter an agreement company to company, rather that government to government”. In this context, Segal explains that he contacted his partner in Peru, and that he showed his interest. 

The buyer of the vaccines, Segal explained, would have been “a huge company in Peru which wants to buy [the vaccines] privately and bring them. It has the money and wants to buy them. I cannot give you the name.”Neyra Colchado, in turn, excused himself from commenting about this private company who was interested in the ICI proposal.

 

Differing Versions

If the initial offer was to a private company, why did ICI send a letter to the Peruvian state to offer them the same batch of vaccines? The versions of Israeli businessman, Gil Segal, and this Peruvian intermediary differ. The former claimed that he knows a CNBG representative -whom he refused to identify from his business in Africa: “They have people, like myself, who are authorized to offer the vaccines [to private companies].” 

According to Segal, his contact in CNBG asked him for a letter written by the Peruvian government, accepting that a private company buy the Sinopharm supply. “In order to open the [negotiation] channel, the country [Peru] must provide a letter authorizing the purchase of vaccines from this company” were the conditions stated by the unidentified CNBG officer, as Gil Segal recounted while talking with our media. “It is a prerequisite”, added the businessman from Israel. 

 

 

Extract of the Health Minister report
DENIAL. An internal report from the Ministry of Health quoted the head of Sinopharm saying that this Chinese laboratory does not work through intermediaries.
Document: Ministry of Health

 

“[It is at this point] when things started getting messy”, indicated Segal, because “the Ministry of Health said some bad things about me; [so] we sent a letter to the Ministry explaining the issue.” Indeed, one of the letters sent by ICI, and signed by Segal, explains to the Peruvian government the alleged commercial relation between the Israeli businessman’s company and Sinopharm’s subsidiary, CNBG. 

On January 28, however, Minsa announced that Sinopharm had refused any offer through intermediaries. The information was submitted by the head of the Chinese laboratory, Liu Jingzhen, to the Peruvian Embassy in China, as OjoPúblico found out. “The Government stood on its back feet because they do not want anyone else [a private company] to bring the vaccines”, Segal expressed in view of the Government refusal.

 

The Intermediary's Version

ICI intermediary in Peru, Omar Neyra Colchado, provided a different version. According to him, once Segal contacted Neyra Colchado, he recommended to offer the vaccines, first to the Peruvian government: “I told [Segal] that, at this time, it would not be possible to offer [the vaccines] freely; legally you can, but there is no political decision [...] for this reason, I suggest that you propose them to the Peruvian government”. 

Based on this suggestion, according to him, , ICI sent a first letter to the Government on January 12. “We would like to offer you an additional alternative, [...] a batch of 3 million doses of Sinopharm vaccines”, the letter expresses. In a second letter, sent on January 22, Segal asks Minsa for a document expressing that “the Peruvian government is interested in vaccinating their citizens with Sinopharm vaccine.” 

Neyra Colchado told OjoPúblico that he acted as a bridge for Gil Segal's proposal to reach Minsa. This is a similar task to what he carried out, always according to the version of this intermediary, for the Government to negotiate with Korean diagnostic tests. “I told [ICI’s representatives] that Minsa needed to have the priority for the vaccines”, Neyra Colchado explained in the interview.

 

Portrait of Omar Neyra
INTERMEDIARY. Omar Neyra is an odontologist and Ph. D. in Public Health. He acted as a bridge for Gil Segal's proposal to reach the Ministry of Health.
Photo: Facebook profile of Omar Neyra

 

Neyra Colchado is an odontologist and Ph. D. In Public Health by Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal. Besides, he was the president of the Comsalud Health Guild at the Lima Chamber of Commerce. “Any effort we make to have as many vaccines as possible, in the least possible time, has to be done”, Neyra Colchado expressed in an interview on TV, on January 20, but without mentioning his conversations with Gil Segal.

Additionally, Neyra Colchado was the General Manager of Euroclínica Odontológica, which started business in 2001 but has been deregistered by the Tax Authorities. Since 2008, the odontologist is the attorney-in-fact of Euro Dental Medical Import, a corporation managed by his sister: Nadia Yvonne Neyra Colchado. “That business is my company”, the doctor confirmed to our media. 

Euro Dental Medical Import has conducted extensive foreign trade activities since 2012, and their main imports have been diagnostic reagents, dental prosthesis, and electric thermometer, among others. One of the main vendors is the jurisdiction of Israel (US$626 millions), after Germany (US$1,5 millions) and China (US$1 million). Neyra Colchado, however, denied that this company has business deals with Segal.

 

Unsupported Offer

ICI General Manager, Gil Segal, has refused to present OjoPúblico any document supporting his arrangement with CNBG to provide Sinopharm's vaccines to third parties, evenafter the Chinese laboratory denied that they worked with intermediaries. “They are absolutely right: I don't work with Sinopharm, but with CNBG”, said Gil Segal when consulted by OjoPúblico about the press release from the Peruvian government. 

CNBG is a subsidiary from Sinopharm, and works in the research and development of vaccines for human beings, among other areas. This company was incorporated in 1989, and claims to be the main producer of immunization devices in China. In August 2020, such subsidiary received, through Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, the license from Peruvian authorities to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials of Sinopharm’s vaccine in Peru.

“Do you want proof [of my relationship with CNBG]? [Have the Peruvian government] send me a letter of interest [...] I am not gonna go back to CNBG on every person that needs to know [about our arrangement],” said Segal to OjoPúblico. According to him , this prerequisite to negotiate with Sinopharm's subsidiary and to have access to documents confirming the legality of the business, is a rule imposed by his contact in CNBG.

 

Picture of Gil Segal
BUSINESSMAN.The Israeli citizen Gil Segal claims to have an arrangement with a representative of CNBG, a Sinopharm's subsidiary. Nevertheless, he has refused to present any document supporting it.
Photo: Gil Segal's Twitter account

 

At the beginning of January, Neyra Colchado, held a videoconference with Segal, but accepted that he did not ask him for any proof of this relationship with CNBG at that time, because “it was not my interest either; I am not part of the commercial proposal.” At the insistence of OjoPúblico on knowing why he did not check the offer, the doctor replied that "if I see a meeting at that level, and I know the pharmaceutical industry in the world, I know how it works, how subsidiaries work, [then] I found [Segal's offer] reasonable”.

OjoPúblico tried to contact CNBG to verify the truthfulness of this arrangement with Gil Segal and the ICI company, in which he serves as CEO. Meng Li and Jenny Qu, both representatives of Sinopharm’s subsidiary in China, were sent an email. Additionally, we called the three telephones indicated by CNBG in Beijing, on more than one occasion. Until press time, however, there was no response from the subsidiary. The Peruvian embassy in China, in turn, has promised to forward our inquiries to the CNBG press area.

 

The offshore companies of the Israeli businessman

OjoPúblico identified that Gil Segal, a businessman living in the city of Givatayim, east of Tel Aviv, is connected to at least five offshore corporations incorporated in territories with low taxation and financial opacity, between 2009 and 2017, according to the Public Registry of the Republic of Malta, Bahamas, and the public database of Paradise Papers global research, which was led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism (ICIJ) and in which our media took part.

Three of these companies were incorporated in Malta: Safe Global Housing LTD, Safe Global Innovation LTD and Eco-Logic Solutions Ltd. The first two corporations were incorporated on the same date: March 22, 2016 The latter, in turn, was incorporated on March 3, 2017, according to the official portal of Malta Business Registry. These three corporations also mention Gil Segal as their representative.

To date, the Republic of Malta is considered as one of the 20 jurisdictions with the highest level of fiscal opacity, according to the last issue of the Financial Secrecy Index, prepared by the international civil organization Tax Justice Network. In 2019, a European Parliament committee also determined that Malta exhibits features of a tax haven and facilitates aggressive tax planning.

 

Photograph of Malta
OFFSHORE.Gil Segal, a businessman living in the city of Givatayim, east of Tel Aviv, is related to at least five offshore corporations incorporated in tax havens such as Malta.
Photo: Google Street View

 

Offshore companies Safe Global Housing and Safe Global Innovation, which Segal is listed as a representative in Malta, have the same shareholders. The first is the German lawyer Hans Wolfram Kessler, who is part of the Redeker Sellner Dahs legal firm and the Israeli-German lawyer association. ICIJ database links him to other four corporations in Malta.

The second shareholder of the two Malta offshores represented by Gil Segal is the Swiss corporation Safe Global Facilitating Company. The Swiss public registry details that this company recorded Segal as the Chairman of the Board in 2017. This corporation is also a shareholder of Segal's third offshore in Malta ─Eco-Logic Solutions Ltd─, although the company has started a liquidation process, according to Swiss authorities.

Lastly, Gil Segal is mentioned in the public registry of the Caribbean jurisdiction of Bahamas. The Board of the company Innovatis Investments Fund Limited indicated that the Israeli businessman held this position in October 2009. Up to the beginning of 2020, Bahamas was considered a tax haven by the European Union. The Tax Justice Network, in turn, ranks this territory as one of the 22 jurisdictions with the highest degree of fiscal opacity. 

In the first interview carried out on January 23, Segal assured that these offshore companies were created because some of their customers did not want to be linked with Israel. In the second interview, on January 28, he added that he has “a lot of companies, and each one has a special purpose”. When asked again for the reason why these companies were incorporated in foreign jurisdictions, Segal refused to answer. 

“With all due respect, it is not your business; it has nothing to do with the offer [of Sinopharm's vaccines] that I have made to Peru.” Gil Segal did not answer, in the interview with OjoPúblico, whether any of these offshore corporations is shareholder of ICI, the company he manages and through which he offered the 3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the Peruvian government.

 

Lawsuits against Segal in Israel

In his Twitter account, Gil Segal describes himself as an international businessman, an environmentalist and human rights activist. In the same social network, Segal expresses that his motto is “better to walk alone than in a crowd going in the wrong direction.” Across his profile, Segal criticizes Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for his politics and the corruption accusations against him. 

OjoPublico found that two civil lawsuits were filed against Segal in the last decade. The last one,from 2018, accuses him of failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a dozen flights that Segal booked for himself, his girlfriend and associates, a year earlier. The lawsuit was filed in the city of Haifa, a territory north of Israel. 

The plaintiff, an Israel-based travel agency, presented in the legal proceedings a group of WhatsApp communications with Segal, which were reviewed by OjoPúblico, and that document the communication between Segal and the travel agent. These chats start on a friendly and professional manner with a conversation about holiday in Germany, but slowly turn into a heated discussion between the supplier asking for payment and the customer, giving excuses and explanations as to why he is unable to pay, or not responsible for payment.

 

Email to Gil Segal
LAWSUIT. A travel agent accuses Gil Segal of failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a dozen flights that he booked for himself, his girlfriend and colleagues.
Document: Israel Judiciary

 

Segal, effectively, in his response to the demand, claimed that he does not owe the money for the trips, but the company he works for: the Maltese offshore company Safe Global Innovation. “I oversaw the sales of this company,” he said in a document he filed to court, “but the company froze operations due to a lack of cash flow.” The invoices for these trips were issued by that company, Segal added. 

“[I tried] to receive the company documentation [Safe Global Innovation], but it was in vain,” was Segal's response to the demand. In this same process, Segal did not admit and denied the WhatsApp conversation with the plaintiff. When responding to the questions of this travel agency, Segal also refused to answer whether he owns shares of Safe Global Innovation, located at Malta tax haven.

A similar lawsuit was filed against Gil Segal in 2012. In this year, a different travel agency filed a claim against him for not paying nearly 10,000USD in air tickets. “Segal presented himself as a businessman working around the world, including Switzerland, who needed a business-oriented travel agency,” the plaintiff declared. The civil suit ended in an out-of-court settlement.

Besides the letter sent by Segal through ICI, the Ministry of Health announced that they have received several communications from six other private companies and organizations, offering millions doses of COVID-19 vaccines. One of these offers corresponded, for example, to an alleged intermediary of UK Astrazeneca laboratory. This pharmaceutical company, however, refuted commercializing their vaccine in the private sector.