Monday, April 08, 2013

Enabling the tax-cheats

The Sunday Star-Times had the first New Zealand angle from the massive leak of data from international tax-havens: the role of New Zealand companies in enabling international tax-cheats:

Leaked documents reveal one of New Zealand's richest families was for a time at the heart of a major international tax haven company that hit the news in the United States last week.

John Spencer, New Zealand's richest man in the 1980s and still incredibly wealthy, was - with his family - majority owners of the company called TrustNet, whose extremely secret client records have been leaked en masse to a Washington DC-based journalism organisation. The leaks reveal the identity of tens of thousands of people who use tax havens: some involved in dodgy activities and evading tax, others in lawful activities including companies doing business across political borders and individuals living in multiple countries or legitimately minimising their tax.

Surprisingly, the leaks show New Zealanders are involved extensively in this shadowy world of offshore companies and secret bank accounts.

The company at the centre of the Washington leaks was set up by New Zealanders, has been staffed by many New Zealanders and for 14 years was majority-owned by the Spencers.

There is now a network of New Zealand lawyers involved in this business, helping rich people hide their money and cheat on their taxes. While its not a big angle, they're aided in this by lax company law, which makes it trivial to set up a front company here, and by our legal institution of "New Zealand foreign trusts", which allow wealthy foreigners to ensure their money is secret and untaxed. New Zealand is a part of this problem, and if we want to stamp out tax cheating, we need to start in our own back yard.

ICIJ also has a detailed history of Portcullis TrustNet and its involvement in the wine-box scam here.