Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Panama Papers: Fewer than 200 NZ-registered foreign trusts has Mossack Fonseca link

Inland Revenue's 'crack squad' found nothing untoward in the Panama Papers. Photo/ File
Inland Revenue's 'crack squad' found nothing untoward in the Panama Papers. Photo/ File

Prime Minister John Key said Inland Revenue staff have trawled through the Panama Papers and found fewer than 200 foreign trusts registered in New Zealand had links to Mossack Fonseca and all had been disclosed.

The Inland Revenue 'crack squad' was charged with looking through the files released early this morning to ensure no New Zealanders were dodging their tax obligations and that foreign trusts in New Zealand were within their legal obligations.

A gleeful Mr Key reported their findings this afternoon after facing days of questioning about whether the papers proved New Zealand was effectively a tax haven targeted by Mossack Fonseca.

He said of 500,000 entities and organisations Mossack Fonseca had a link to, fewer than 200 were trusts with any link to New Zealand. All of those were disclosed, which Mr Key said meant they were subject to information sharing requests from other countries and Inland Revenue.

Mr Key also hit out at those who were insinuating wrongdoing simply because somebody was mentioned in the documents, saying one of the beneficiaries of a trust was Greenpeace International. He also cited Amnesty and the Red Cross as mentioned in the papers.

"So before we get into incrimination by insinuation I think people should go and have a look at that database, make sure they understand it carefully and make sure they understand what is happening in New Zealand."

However, Mr Key's example may backfire. Greenpeace and Amnesty were both mentioned in an earlier 2013 leak when it was reported the charities' names had been used as beneficiaries without their knowledge or consent by people using the front of a charity to hide the true identity of the beneficiaries. Naming a charity as a beneficiary reduced the disclosure requirements for a trust.

He said New Zealand was mentioned 11,000 times over 40 years - .2 per cent of the files.

In Parliament, Mr Key also alleged Green MP Mojo Mathers had a foreign trust - a reference to her beneficial interest in the UK Lamledra Trust. Ms Mathers gave a personal statement, to clarify that was a UK-based family trust but was not a foreign trust.

Mr Key has had to to defend Ken Whitney, who looks after Key's own trust, because Mr Whitney was in the documents in his capacity as a director of Rothschild Trust NZ, a role he held until August last year. Mr Whitney had previously said he was not involved with Mossack Fonseca and Mr Key said the link was "tenuous."

"I don't think anyone should jump to conclusions because someone is a director or trustee of some company in New Zealand that through a massive association has somehow dealt with Mossack Fonseca that they have done something wrong."

Mr Key also downplayed the links between Mossack Fonseca and several of the trust lawyers who lobbied the Government about Inland Revenue's proposed review of foreign trust law in 2014.

"Here's breaking news. People who work in an industry might want to talk to the Government about that."

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists database which was released this morning carries a 'disclaimer' that says there are "legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. We do not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly."

- NZ Herald

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