MPs' property loophole: How the data was discovered

By Jared Savage, Claire Trevett, Keith Ng

The Herald pulled more than 7.2 million property records from Land Information titles and owners' lists. Photo / Thinkstock
The Herald pulled more than 7.2 million property records from Land Information titles and owners' lists. Photo / Thinkstock

In the first of a three-part series, a Herald investigation of politicians' property records finds six Govt MPs are using their private Super funds to own properties that do not need to be disclosed, claiming up to $78,000 a year to pay off mortgages.


The Herald's research into politicians' property holdings for this week's three-part series is the biggest data journalism project in New Zealand.

More than 7.2 million property records were extracted from Land Information titles and owners' lists. These records were combined using cloud servers to create a searchable database of property records.

Since the property titles data do not include addresses, a piece of custom software was created to identify and locate each property, while another extracted MPs' trusts, companies and declared properties from the Register of Pecuniary Interest.

Combining all of these tools resulted in a map of properties owned by every MP, both personally and through trusts, superannuation schemes or companies. While MPs who control their own trusts and superannuation schemes are readily found through this database, other MPs structure their affairs in ways that make it difficult or impossible to find their properties.

For example, John Key's "blind trust" means his name never appears on a property record. But through tracking down known addresses such as his electorate office, we were able to follow his trustees to discover other properties he owns through that trust.
Every property found was manually verified against ratepayer records, which are separately held by 66 district and city councils. The values of properties were calculated based on their rateable valuations, which is only a rough estimate of what the property is worth.


Q&A: MPs' Super scheme

Q: Why do MPs set up private Super schemes?

Of the 238 private superannuation schemes registered in New Zealand, about 40 belong to current MPs and 35 of those are National MPs. Some split their contributions between private and managed schemes, to ensure they get the benefits of KiwiSaver as well.
Those spoken to, such as Mike Sabin and Simon Bridges, said it was predominantly to provide flexibility for them in investing, and not to avoid disclosure. Labour's finance spokesman David Parker said many MPs liked to be in control of their own money "and are arrogant to believe they are better investors than any others". He believed it was important to disclose the assets held in personal schemes.

Q: Why do MPs not disclose some property?

MPs must now disclose any assets held by trusts they are beneficiaries of but they do not have to disclose assets held by Super schemes, even if theirs is a personal Super scheme.
The disclosure rules are set by the MPs on the Standing Orders Committee, which did its last major review in 2011. The Registrar of Pecuniary Interests, Sir Maarten Wevers, said his predecessor, Dame Margaret Bazley, had told the committee in 2011 that it would be too cumbersome to expect MPs to declare assets held by managed Super schemes with major superannuation providers because the assets invested in were difficult to keep track of. He said although Dame Margaret did make a distinction between those providers and MPs with personal schemes which were controlled by them, the committee opted to leave all Super scheme assets undisclosable.

Q: How did the accommodation rules change?

Under the previous rules, MPs who owned Wellington apartments could claim only for the interest on a mortgage, while those renting could claim their total rent. To maximise the allowance, many put their apartments into a trust or Super scheme which then acted as a landlord renting the property to the MP. Under the new rules, MPs who qualify for the Wellington accommodation allowance are treated the same, regardless of whether they rent or own.


• Click here to see what MPs have and have not disclosed on the Register of Pecuniary Interests.








- NZ Herald

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