Business Insider: Lift-off to tax havens all over the world

Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Illustration / Rod Emmerson

The timing could hardly have been worse. On the day in which the Panama Papers lifted a lid on how politicians and public figures hide away assets, the Government announced it had approved an air service agreement with the very country which gave the massive document leak its name.

Panama is just one tax haven New Zealand has a new air services agreement to - another is Mauritius, the volcanic island off the east coast of Africa.

Both would likely protest at the "tax haven" designation.

Business Insider notes, however, that they are included on the European Union's blacklist of "non-co-operative tax" jurisdictions.

The Bahamas, which the Government recently negotiated a code-sharing agreement with, is also included on that dishonour roll.

"Air services agreements pave the way for airlines to operate new routes in and out of New Zealand, creating more links with the rest of the world," Transport Minister Simon Bridges said when announcing the deals on Monday.

That New Zealand is forming new links with the likes of Panama and the Bahamas, however, would hardly have been welcomed by Bridges' Cabinet colleague, Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse.

Woodhouse, at the same time Bridges made his announcement, was busy denying that New Zealand was a tax haven after it was included alongside those two countries on a list of jurisdictions used by Mossack Fonseca - the law firm from which the 11.5 million Panama Papers were leaked.

If our offshore trust industry is now worried about any sort of crackdown, it can at least take solace knowing that new routes to other tax havens may well be on the way.

Industry slackdown

Company directors may have felt the heat in the wake of the global financial crisis, but they once again appear to be enjoying a more comfortable business climate.

The Government, keen to take a tough stance after frauds and failures of the last decade, moved in early 2011 to create a new set of offences for those in charge of a company.

If our offshore trust industry is now worried about any sort of crackdown, it can at least take solace knowing that new routes to other tax havens may well be on the way.

This would have made criminals of directors who knowingly didn't act in a company's best interests or acted recklessly.

A loud outcry erupted from the business community over fears risk-taking would now be against the law.

This would discourage the very innovation and entrepreneurship that is central to business success, some parties warned.

Not liking the sound of that, Parliament proceeded to water the new law down.

In its final form, the law made it a criminal offence if a director committed a "serious breach" of their duty to act in good faith and in a company's best interest.

To pass the relevant threshold, the director had to act with the belief that their conduct was not in the company's best interests and knowing it would cause serious loss.

If such actions were proven, the director could be jailed for up to five years or be fined up to $200,000.

Keen to see how this law would hold the corporate community to account, Business Insider asked the Government just how many directors had fallen foul of it in the near two years since it has been in force.

The answer: zero.

Funding terror?

New Zealand's financial institutions are identifying more transactions that could be funding terrorist activity.

The likes of banks, casinos and money remitters have, since 2013, all been required to report suspicious transactions to the police's Financial Intelligence Unit.

The bulk of these are concerned with possible money laundering or other criminal activity.

A handful, however, relate to the possible financing of terrorism and appear to be on the rise.

Only 21 were flagged to police in the year to June 2014.

This jumped to 40 in the following 12 months.

Between July and December, some 22 were identified as possibly linked to terrorism - despite the overall number of suspicious transactions falling.

The FIU note the statistics in their latest quarterly report.

The slight increase, it says, is "a reflection of the recent acts of terrorism around the world, which have increased awareness and alertness of terrorism generally".

- NZ Herald

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