John Key came prepared to his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday on foreign trusts.

He doesn't always. Occasionally he will expect a subject to be raised but deliberately be unprepared.

By some coded means (perhaps two touches to the left ear and a stroke of the chin) his staff get the message that the PM Does Not Want to Be Briefed on that issue so he can deny knowledge.

Not yesterday though. After the release of John Shewan's hard-hitting report on foreign trusts, Key foresaw someone would point out the differences between what he previously said and what the report concluded.


In April the public was told through a combination of himself, Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse and Finance Minister Bill English that New Zealand's foreign trust regime was world class, robust, that it had integrity, and it had full disclosure, and that we were not a tax haven.

The response was relaxed. Key spent the week going through his own tax history to make sure he could give personal assurances about not having foreign trusts.

With more stories on the Panama papers, pressure built for some inquiry.

Eventually the Government acted. Despite regarding the regime as tip-top, they would get Shewan, a former PwC chairman, to give it a warrant of fitness and point out any rust.

Shewan's report has shaken the complacency: "The rules are not fit for purpose in the context of preserving New Zealand's reputation as a country that co-operates with other jurisdictions to counter money laundering and aggressive tax practices."


It was reasonable to conclude there are foreign trusts in NZ being used to hide illicit funds, Shewan said. Disclosure demands could be described as "light-handed".

He did not call NZ a tax haven, however, a point Key seized upon in his carefully crafted answer to the question about his former defence of the tax regime.

"I said New Zealand is not a tax haven - well he agrees with that perspective.

"I said that there is full disclosure of information - there is when it is asked for - but what he is really saying is we should make it easier for people to ask that.

"I said we have a strong tax treaty and tax information network, well we do ...

"I said if we get recommendations for change, we will always look at those. We have."

He would not have felt the need for notes unless he had created a very different impression in the first place.