Rodney Hide: Papers turned out to be a fizzer

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Turns out fewer than 200 New Zealand trusts have links to Mossack Fonseca. Photo / AP
Turns out fewer than 200 New Zealand trusts have links to Mossack Fonseca. Photo / AP

The Panama Papers big reveal proved better in prospect than reality.

We had the promise of New Zealand as a tax haven, squillionaires hiding their ill-gotten gains, Prime Minister John Key shown to be dodgy, and the rich getting richer through wholesale tax avoidance.

The expectation was political carnage.

Labour Leader Andrew Little looked strong: he promised to ban foreign trusts, overturning law from Roman times.

Sure, it was Nicky Hager who has history of getting to 7 by adding 2 plus 2. But this appeared different. Hager was working with a team of top Television New Zealand and Radio New Zealand journalists .

Maybe, just maybe, they had something.

And then the Big Reveal. The names making the headlines were Alan Hubbard, as a shareholder of some or other company; a Tauranga-based Elvis impersonator, who had his address listed for a Mr Basil Al Jarah registering a company in the British Virgin Islands, and Greenpeace, but it seems Greenpeace was on another leaked database, and that it wasn't really them.

There was one rich lister and political donor named but his donation was to the Greens, not National.

Oh, and it was explained, just because someone is named doesn't mean they have done anything wrong or improper.

Turns out fewer than 200 New Zealand trusts have links to Mossack Fonseca, all of which are properly disclosed and subject to information sharing requests from other countries and Inland Revenue.

Confused? Yup. Don't care? Yup.

I give Little a free pass. He was led astray.

TVNZ put out a press release saying its collaboration with RNZ and Hager "exposes more New Zealand links to secret offshore trusts that are operating in this country to avoid paying tax". It didn't.

TVNZ declared: "Our joint investigation raises serious questions about New Zealand's trust laws, and the ease with which they are manipulated". They aren't.

It continued that New Zealand is a tax haven and a country "embarrassed and tarnished" by the contents of Mossack Fonseca's secret files.

We aren't.

RNZ wrote of when "the Shewan really hits the fan" - a play on the name of tax specialist John Shewan, former chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, who the Prime Minister has asked to review the rules covering New Zealand-based overseas trusts.

The politest thing to be said is TVNZ and RNZ extrapolated well beyond their data set. It seems lots of documents - and lots of collaboration - don't add up to lots of stories.

The Panama Papers fizzled before they flickered.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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Rodney Hide

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