OPEN LETTER on Unfair Dismissal & Alleged Tax-Dodging

In April 2016, Andrew Henderson, who is from the US, contacted me via Facebook asking if I would be interested in working for his company in Georgia. Prior to accepting the job at Andrew’s company, Nomad Capitalist, I was working as a Coordinator for the Foundation Relations department at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington DC, where I was very happy and satisfied with my salary.

However, ever since I first came to Georgia for an internship at GFSIS in 2012, it had been my dream to live and work in Tbilisi again.

I first had a Skype interview with Andrew’s girlfriend, Gabriela Deniewska (a former Nomad Capitalist employee) and later with Andrew.

A few weeks after the interview, I received an offer of employment as the “Director of Immigration Georgia”. I signed a contract valid until February 2017, with the possibility of extension.

Nomad Capitalist is a consulting company that helps clients primarily from America and Western Europe move their business and residency for tax reduction, immigration and investments. Nomad Capitalist in registered in Hong Kong, however they also registered a branch in Georgia in 2014. Andrew knew how easy it was to open a company in Georgia and to apply for residency, so he took advantage of the system to use Georgia as one of the countries from which to operate his business.

Originally, I thought I would be helping bring more foreign investment into Georgia and helping Georgia to progress through these investments in the country’s development. The initial duties listed in the employment contract were: general research of business processes, interacting with clients, working with real estate agents and developers in Georgia, assisting the company in locating new revenue sources, leading client tours in Tbilisi and to personally promote immigration and investment in Georgia. However, when I arrived in Georgia at the end of July 2016, I realized that my job was more about helping foreigners save money on their taxes – sometimes in ways that seemed questionable.

I was also expected to be on-call to pick up Andrew’s mail, call Andrew’s internet provider and handyman, arrange taxis for Andrew and his girlfriend (on weekends, too), call the veterinarian, and other duties unrelated to the tasks listed in my contract. I was basically working as his personal assistant, in addition to the original job description.

Furthermore, previous clients would often email me with questions that I was not trained to answer, as they were past clients working on residency outside of Georgia. Andrew was not always clear regarding how to handle these inquiries.

Something I found surprising about Andrew was his affinity for collecting passports from around the world. I know that he applied for Georgian citizenship while I was still at Nomad Capitalist. I also worked on helping Andrew apply for Comoros Islands citizenship, which he later received. It is unclear whether he is still a US citizen. Even though Andrew travels frequently, his primary residence is in Georgia, and I can only assume that he has Comorian citizenship for tax shelter purposes. Another concern arose early in my employment at Nomad Capitalist – my first salary of $1,500 was paid in cash. I was also surprised that I was getting paid in dollars instead of Georgian Lari, as companies in Georgia are legally obligated to pay salaries in GEL.

Furthermore, when clients paid Andrew for the services he performed in Georgia, that money was always paid into foreign bank accounts – never to his Georgian company. For example, when clients paid $15,000 for the service of obtaining Georgian citizenship, that money was transferred to either the US, Hong Kong or Singapore bank accounts that Andrew owned. When Andrew paid his Georgian lawyers who handled the clients, instead of paying the law firm directly, he paid the lawyer to his personal bank account. I believe that all of this was done to avoid paying corporate and personal income taxes on Georgian territory.

On October 17, 2016, Andrew came to my co-working space at Vera Loft and told me that it “had been nice to know me,” but he would “prefer to do the job on his own”. Andrew told me not to come into work the next day and that I would get paid for the full month of October. There had never been any warnings from him or any indication that he planned on firing me. I was shocked and humiliated, since he was not even respectful enough to give me 30 days’ notice. When I emailed Andrew and his accountant Dan Cadieux asking how Nomad Capitalist was going to compensate me for breaching the contract, which was legally binding for at least 3 more months, they offered me an additional $750 and a positive reference letter.

Since I still didn’t know what I had done to deserve getting fired so abruptly, in November I sent Andrew a letter asking for further details regarding why he had dismissed me. Cadieux responded: “Andrew and I have discussed your letter, along with our corporate lawyer, and we are unable to provide you any additional information. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”

When I informed Andrew that I would take the matter to court, he tried to prove that I was a remote employee of the Hong Kong company and not the Georgian company. But how could that be the case, when my job required me to live in Georgia? I dealt with Georgian legislature and public services when working with clients applying for Georgian residency. Andrew had registered Nomad Capitalist in Georgia, but it seems that he wanted the work done through his Hong Kong company to avoid paying taxes in Georgia.

I had left everything in the US to pursue this dream of living in Georgia. Instead, I was fired from my job in a humiliating way and also discovered that I was working for a company that is not operating in Georgia in an entirely legal manner. Andrew Henderson’s actions were unfair to our contract for a guaranteed term of employment and also unfair to the legal system of Georgia, a country with already very generous business laws. I decided to write about my experience to warn others about Nomad Capitalist, and to invite the Georgian authorities to look into the company’s business practices.

GEORGIA TODAY tried to contact Andrew Henderson for comment but received no response. The case, according to Ms Onoprienko’s lawyer, who we did speak to, is ongoing in the Georgian Court.

Anna Onoprienko

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