John Key's lawyer Ken Whitney not calling himself a lawyer anymore

By Pattrick Smellie

Ken Whitney.
Ken Whitney.

The man routinely described as Prime Minister John Key's lawyer, Ken Whitney, is not in fact a lawyer anymore.

A central figure in the New Zealand fallout from the Panama Papers release, Whitney gave up his practicing certificate with the New Zealand Law Society in February, at the same time as he established Antipodes Group, a specialist foreign trust advisory firm, according to a detailed blog on the matter by former Reuters correspondent-turned-blogger Simon Louisson.

Written a fortnight ago, unchallenged by Whitney and unreported by mainstream media in that time, the blog on Labour-aligned website, The Standard, quotes Whitney on his decision not to remain registered to practice law.

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Asked by Louisson whether he was Key's lawyer, the Auckland-based businessman initially said: "Yes."After some discussion, he amended this to: "I'm not calling myself a lawyer; Mr Key is.

"Louisson went on to report that "later (Whitney) conceded he was retired from legal practice, although he said he was a consultant with Alexander Dorrington Lawyers, the practice that bought Whitney's practice, Ross & Whitney, in February 2014, which he shared with Ian Ross.

"Whitney said he was aware he was not registered, with Alexander Dorrington doing most of the actual legal work on his advice, Louisson wrote.

"Asked if, given the publicity generated by the revelation that Key had an account with Antipodes, which specialises in offshore trusts, that Whitney did not have a responsibility to clarify the situation, Whitney said: 'No, I didn't feel any need to comment'," The Standard article says.

Key initially defended Whitney's name-checking Key in a letter last year to Revenue Minister Todd McClay, urging the government not to let the Inland Revenue Department conduct a review of New Zealand's permissive foreign trust regime, which the Panama Papers release has highlighted.

Key later said Whitney had misrepresented him in the letter but maintained his action in advising Whitney to take the matter up with the relevant minister was appropriate and normal.

The Green and Labour parties are seeking to connect McClay's confirmation five months later that no investigation would occur to an implied instruction from Key in Whitney's letter.

Key has described Whitney as a long-time friend who had handled his private legal affairs for years and continues to manage his New Zealand-registered private blind trust, Aldgate.

Companies Office records show Whitney and Ross are directors of scores of firms, many with offshore owners.

Meanwhile, Transparency International says it is "extremely surprised and disappointed at the limited scope of the Shewan inquiry" into New Zealand's foreign trust law settings, which allow the country's global reputation for high integrity to be exploited by foreign interests seeking to shelter funds from income tax in their own countries.

Former PwC New Zealand chairman and tax expert John Shewan has been appointed to undertake a review that TI says should go beyond foreign trusts "to tackle the broader spectrum of financial crime risks associated with New Zealand companies and trusts.

"Government agencies had already done work in this area and it was important that New Zealand entities not be used to disguise such financial crimes as "money-laundering and ill-gotten asset transfers and other forms of international corruption."

- BusinessDesk

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