The international scandal which lumped New Zealand in with other tax havens is, to borrow a phrase, not a good look. That's what Prime Minister John Key often says when bad news breaks.

But when it came to the world's wealthy using foreign trusts to hide money in New Zealand, John Key went further, launching a review. It's the go-to solution when you need to be seen taking action.

He's a popular Prime Minister, but those who don't like him often accuse him of changing the rules to help his rich mates. And so the latest revelation is once again, not a good look.

His personal lawyer Ken Whitney lobbied the Revenue Minister in 2014, saying John Key wanted the industry to be given a chance to explain itself, and defend the practice of foreign trusts.


It's exactly the sort of personal connection to the scandal that John Key's been trying to avoid. It undermines trust, and rightfully so. It raises questions of preferential access, of who has the Prime Minister's ear, and what could be said in personal conversations that we have no record of.

Key says it was just a casual conversation where he was asked about an issue, and used his standard tactic of deflecting the question to the Minister in charge of it. He says trying to make it into anything further is a desperate ploy.

The explanation requires us to take him at his word, as it's difficult to prove either way. His critics will hold it up as the smoking gun that proves he is linked to foreign trusts, our tax haven reputation, and that he only wanted to fix the problem when it was brought to the public's attention. His fans will say the email was penned by someone else, and proves nothing about the Prime Minister's stance on the issue.

READ MORE: The Antipodes email: John Key, his lawyer and foreign trusts

But problems with trust go across the political spectrum. It was the Green Party which uncovered the story, after some excellent investigation. Less good is that they then spoke to several media outlets, leaving at least three with the impression that they had an exclusive story.

It's not the end of the world, and it's still the Prime Minister who will face the most questions over this. But the Green Party might find media wary of them, the next time they uncover dirt on their opponents.

Frances Cook is a political reporter for Newstalk ZB
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