is by way of trying to keep material together so it isn’t
disppeared like the very good 60 Minutes, “Treasure Islands”
report on New Zealand as a tax haven.
are some of the recent material as well as older material. We’ve
been here before but all we get is blanket denial while the
Opposition (with, perhaps, the honourable exception of Winston
Peters) has gone AWOL. Once again the government gets away with
whatever it likes.
a few exceptions everyone just sits around commenting on Facebook
(words come cheap) while others try their best.
is very difficult to find any video material because no one takes the
trouble to record things and to post onto social media (such as Vimeo
or You Tube) so these items can be referred to in the future.
anyone can help in tracking the 60 Minutes item “Treasure islands”
I would be grateful
October 7th - Treasure Islands
Bradbury of the Daily Blog characterises the situation very well
Mossack Fonseca papers – Key has built NZ into a tax haven
smell of rot is matched by the shrill braying of right wing pundits
who not only insist Key is moderate but that criticism of a cold
blooded shark like Key is a mental illness.
we had a functioning mainstream media who were challenging Key’s
moves to build NZ into an off shore tax haven over the last 8 years,
this might not come as such a shocking surprise…
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key flew into Malta for the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2015, he already
knew he shared some important views with his host, Malta’s Prime
Minister Joseph Muscat, about the importance of keeping the tax
secrets of foreign investors.
countries are quiet achievers in the ranks of global tax havens, and
both are determined to keep it that way.
Malta has been fiercely resisting pressure to close tax avoidance
loopholes used by foreign companies, including Australian firms, to
move profits out of the European Union, New Zealand has fought just
as hard to protect its laws that make foreign profits tax-free and
invisible for beneficiaries of its offshore trusts.
is Radio New Zealand this morning
NZ's 'world-class' tax system defended
More on the Panama papers
Green Party finance spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said New Zealand's foreign trusts formed part of a trillion-dollar tax haven industry, as evidenced by the document leak.
Revenue Minister speaks out
Here was an article by cmpaigner, John Minto, from the Mana Party. The link he gives goes nowhere now.
New Zealand – A Tax Haven For Super-Rich Foreigners
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne was all spluttering indignation in early October 2012 when confronted with the fact New Zealand is a tax haven for wealthy foreigners. The scheme was exposed in a TV3 60 Minutes documentary story which showed how New Zealand companies manage financial trusts for super-rich foreigners so these foreigners can avoid paying tax in their own countries (“Treasure Islands”, 7/10/12, http://ondemand.tv3.co.nz/60-Minutes-Treasure-Islands/tabid/59/articleID/8315/Default.aspx).
These “wealthy individuals” are part of a global rort where an estimated $US30 trillion of tax is avoided by having their wealth managed in a third country – New Zealand in this case. The money isn’t invested here; it’s just “managed” here so it doesn’t appear as taxable wealth or taxable income either in the person’s home country or in New Zealand. Dunne said that that while some might call it tax evasion, he described it as “legitimate tax avoidance. I think the term 'tax haven' is a gross exaggeration because it implies illegality, it implies evasion, rather than legitimate tax avoidance”.
However when it was pointed out that our Inland Revenue Department Website says tax avoidance is wrong Dunne went silent and refused further interviews but was backed up by Prime Minister John Key who said Dunne was right. “He'll be using the absolutely correct technical term. There are two things, going back to my days at university – tax evasion and tax avoidance. There is actually quite legitimate business in New Zealand for servicing foreign trusts”.
So there you have it. We ordinary mortals must pay tax on every dollar we earn and every dollar we spend while the rich pay next to nothing via “legitimate tax avoidance”. Even Labour Party Leader David Shearer agrees the distinction is a false one. "Tax evasion, tax avoidance – it’s basically the same thing”. Labour’s Revenue spokesperson David Clark said “There is a serious ethical issue here. These people, who are often rich families in poor countries, aren’t paying their fair share. That’s not something New Zealand should be supporting. It’s not the Kiwi way”. He also pointed out with some indignation that the number of foreign “tax-avoidance” trusts managed in New Zealand had doubled under National. Why wouldn’t it? Labour started the ball rolling.
Meanwhile, On The Home Front…
Here in New Zealand the tax situation mimics our attitude to foreign tax avoiders and evaders. The system is rotten to the core. In 2010 the wealthiest 150 New Zealanders had an increase in wealth of $7 billion – and for the most part they paid no tax on this windfall of unearned riches. But for those on the lowest incomes the tax rates are particularly savage. The lowest 10% of income earners spend 14% of their income on GST while the top 10% spend less than 5% of their income on GST (Goods and Services Tax)..
As well as paying less GST the super-rich pay hardly any income tax either. A recent Inland Revenue sample of the wealthiest 250 New Zealanders (with wealth in excess of $250 million) found only half are paying the top tax rate of 33%, which kicks in at earnings of over $70,000. You are excused it you uttered an expletive at this point. US multi-billionaire Warren Buffet pointed in 2011 that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does but in New Zealand it’s even worse – the more money you get the lower the tax you pay.
In 2010 when concern was expressed about the wealthy avoiding paying the top income tax rate of 39% Finance Minister Bill English dropped the rate to 33% to match the rate paid by local trusts. In other words the rich wouldn’t play by the rules so the rules were changed so they didn’t break them. Another expletive understood. The total tax take from our most affluent could be as low as four or five percent while the lowest income New Zealanders pay around 26% when income tax and GST are taken into account.
It’s no exaggeration to say New Zealand is a tax haven for local and foreign elites who grow fat on the hunger and homelessness of the poor. Some have argued that the social value of the work of the rich justifies their higher incomes and lower taxes but this is market myth. A hospital cleaner paid close to the minimum wage does work of high social value. Just think if the job was left undone for a couple of weeks. On the other hand currency speculators, such as Prime Minister John Key in a former life, are paid vastly more but their work contributes nothing of value to society. In fact it’s mostly calculated as a negative.
Ten EU Countries To Adopt FTT
There are some small moves internationally to challenge the tax rip-offs of the rich. One way is through a Financial Transactions Tax on currency trading. In October 2012 ten European Union (EU) countries - France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia - announced they are introducing a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT). It’s a small start to shift the tax burden onto those who have never paid their way while easing the burden on wage and salary earners.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "This is about fairness - we need to ensure the costs of the crisis are shared by the financial sector instead of shouldered by ordinary citizens". If fairness were the criteria we’d have had an FTT decades ago and the case for New Zealand to follow the European lead is particularly strong. Not because politicians, financiers, or banks want it but because it would be a significant start in rebalancing our rotten tax system.
Hundreds of billions move in and out of New Zealand banks every year as currency traders feed off the wealth created by workers elsewhere. In fact currency traders have the same role in global finance as a burglar has in our homes – to rip us off. Right now our tax system rewards the idle who trade in wealth created by others while those on low incomes struggle under the heaviest tax burden. Robin Hood would be turning in his grave. Major structural changes to our tax system are needed to bring “economic justice” to our families but a financial transactions tax would be a good start.
The FTT to apply in the ten EU countries will cover transactions on currencies, bonds and shares traded at banks and financial institutions. We need it here. In 2011 the New Zealand dollar was the tenth most traded currency in the world and a 0.5% tax on that trade alone would bring in more than enough to abolish GST, giving a huge boost to families on low and middle incomes. As well getting rid of GST, a tax on currency trading would also reduce the value of the New Zealand dollar by dampening speculation which in turn would bring in more income from exports. This is the direct way of dealing with our overvalued currency rather than the agonised three monthly interest rate decisions of a hobbled Reserve Bank.
We should also apply the tax to share trading, such as in the UK where they’ve had such a tax (set at 0.5%) for several decades. An FTT would be a good step away from the tired old neo-liberal polices which tax the poor to death while the super-rich pay peanuts. We should follow the European lead.
All we have from the 60 Minutes story is from someone who kindly thought to record this and put it on YouTube
All we have from the 60 Minutes story is from someone who kindly thought to record this and put it on YouTube
One of our very best (if only) investigative journalist, Nicky Hager researched and reported on this story.
Money trail leads home to New Zealand
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.
The Spencer family – which now runs Waiheke Island’s Man O’War Bay winery and vineyard – set up TrustNet, one of the companies at the centre of the tax haven leak.
7 April, 2013
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.
The Spencers have courted controversy. John Spencer waged a 19-year battle to stop public access to the Stony Batter gun emplacement on his Waiheke Island farm, including barricading a public road. The Star-Times revealed in 2005 that his son Berridge and daughter Mertsi were secret National Party donors. And now Spencer is the Kiwi connection to secret tax haven records that may be the largest leak of financial information in history.
They expose the hidden activities of wealthy, secretive or criminal people in around 150 countries and territories. In total, about one-and-a-half million documents were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), an independent network of reporters who work together on cross-border investigations. There is currently hot debate around the world about corporations which don't pay tax and the respectable bankers and lawyers who assist them.
The Tax Justice Network and other organisations are pushing for governments like New Zealand's to stop tolerating tax havens and work together to close them down. TrustNet has helped set up and manage companies, trusts and bank accounts in tax havens for about 80,000 individual clients.
According to overseas news stories based on the leaks, they include the mega-rich, corrupt regimes, corporations dodging tax, fraudsters, companies shifting wealth out of poor countries, companies with controversial or secretive business, mercenaries and spies, and also many ordinary people who want to move their money and business "offshore".
The Tax Justice Network estimates that about one-third of the world's wealth is held offshore and about half of all the world's trade flows through tax havens. New Zealanders have had occasional glimpses of the offshore world. Star-Times stories have exposed:
* Geoffrey Taylor, and his sons Ian and Michael, setting up companies in New Zealand for North Korean arms trading and organised crime;
* an Auckland Burger King cook was a director for some of these companies;
* and a Nelson woman who supposedly owned a Moldovan TV station, again through a chain of Taylor companies.
Mostly these people and their shell companies have been pawns in a much bigger system.
KIWIS IN KEY ROLES
The TrustNet leaks show New Zealanders in key roles helping to run the system. TrustNet markets itself today as the largest independent offshore services company in Asia. It was set up 25 years ago by Kiwis in what was then the newly established Cook Islands tax haven.
In the early 1980s business lobbyists from New Zealand and Australia persuaded the Cook Islands government that becoming a tax haven would bring riches to the small island group. These lobbyists included New Zealander lawyer Trevor Clarke, "father of the Cook Islands tax haven", who with others used the new tax haven laws to build a company called European Pacific.
Documents about European Pacific's tax schemes were leaked and tabled in the New Zealand Parliament by MP Winston Peters, igniting the Winebox scandal (see breakout).
Another key figure was New Zealand lawyer Mike Mitchell, the Cook Islands solicitor-general in the early 1980s and main government adviser as the tax haven was established. He resigned from that role in 1986 to move into the offshore business himself. On April 29, 1987, he established an offshore services company called Pacific Trustee Company. The company was later renamed TrustNet, the company at the centre of last week's leaks.
TrustNet's first chief executive was another New Zealand lawyer, Steve Breed, who was joined a few years later by fellow Auckland law school graduate David Sceats. Early staff included people who'd worked on the Cook Islands Winebox schemes. The European Pacific tax expert accused in court of leaking the Winebox documents, New Zealand lawyer George Couttie, had moved on to work for TrustNet in Hong Kong. But soon after this accusation was made, according to internal documents, senior TrustNet staff recorded a terse company resolution that "accepted" his resignation "effective from the date hereof".
In contrast, European Pacific's former senior executive Geoff Barry was later hired by TrustNet and rose to become the chief executive officer. Today, 10 years later, he is executive director of TrustNet's Hong Kong office.
Spencer's ownership of TrustNet was never publicised. It came to light only during analysis of the leaked records. A note about an obscure offshore entity says "Client is our big boss, John Spencer".
Spencer, who had inherited his family's Caxton toilet paper empire, owned, with his family, a majority share of TrustNet from July 1990 until September 2004, through a Bahamas company called International Trustee Holding Company Limited. John and Berridge Spencer also used TrustNet to place some of their own money and investments in a complex web of offshore companies and trusts. These were based in the British Virgin Islands and Cook Islands, with names such as Northern Lights Trust, Star One Trust and Tristar Capital Service Limited. A spokesperson for the Spencer family said neither John nor Berridge Spencer have been New Zealand residents since the 1990s and in those circumstances it was hardly surprising that the family have assets invested outside of New Zealand.
With the Spencers' backing TrustNet grew quickly, opening offices in Hong Kong in 1991, the British Virgin Islands in 1993 and Singapore in 1994. The early clients included a controversial Indonesian rainforest logging tycoon named Prajogo Pangestu, who had four British Virgin Islands companies.
Another TrustNet client was the former European Pacific manager Trevor Clarke. He had his own set of offshore companies and trusts administered by TrustNet. They were home to millions of dollars of assets, the leaked documents reveal, and TrustNet staff were given special instructions about keeping them secret. One document reads: "We are to contact Trevor by phone only unless otherwise instructed . . . No documents are to be kept here. All docs are to be held in our Hong Kong office."
Clarke was appointed chair of the Cook Islands' new Financial Supervisory Commission from 2003 until 2010, which was set up to oversee the offshore industry. Throughout those years he had the secretive offshore trusts and companies. Clarke responded that he was not "a user of any Cook Islands entities" - his companies and trusts were in Samoa and the British Virgin Islands - and said these were set up well before his role as FSC chair. He had disclosed them to a number of authorities. He said there were lots of reasons for people to want to have assets outside the country where they live. The secrecy instructions did not come from him, he said.
The TrustNet files also show a close relationship between the company and the BNZ and ANZ banks, which had dedicated staff for offshore banking. The leaked documents show bank staff routinely helping TrustNet move money in and out of its clients' offshore bank accounts held at the BNZ Singapore branch and ANZ Cook Islands branch.
In September 2004, the Spencers sold TrustNet to a Singaporean offshore lawyer named David Chong. But many of the New Zealanders, especially lawyers, continued to work in the company and be part of tax haven politics.
Lawyers created the offshore world and lawyers and accountants run it. They lobby in each tax haven for special laws to attract clients and often actually write the laws themselves. The leaked Trust#dhNet papers show this clearly in the minutes of the Cook Islands Trus#dhtee Company Association. The offshore services company heads are seen sitting around deciding what laws they want, putting the hat around for money to have them drafted and then arranging to pre#dhsent the new laws to the Cook Islands government. The same lawyers then use these laws to help their clients.
They also deal with the problems when things go wrong. One of Trust#dhNet’s New Zealand lawyers Penny Purcell was on duty, for instance, when two officers from the Hong Kong Commercial Crime Bureau turned up on August 20, 2007, at TrustNet’s harbour-front offices. They were investigating a fraud case involving a British Virgin Islands company called Sound Financial Management Limited.
The secret TrustNet files include Purcell’s written record of the meeting. Detective Sergeant Steven Lam produced a formal letter from the Hong Kong commissioner of police requesting ‘‘all relevant documents’’ about Sound Financial Management Limited and details of the company’s director and shareholder. Purcell replied that the officers would need to contact TrustNet’s British Virgin Islands office and, according to her own notes, assured them ‘‘we do not keep any files or records here’’.
She said the police ‘‘were surprised’’ the office had no records and asked how this could be ‘‘if the client is based here in Hong Kong’’. ‘‘I then explained,’’ Purcell wrote, ‘‘that we acted as a marketing/secretarial office but that all information including the registers of the Company were kept in its registered office.’’
Detective Sergeant Lam tried one last time, she wrote, asking if they kept any information there in Hong Kong, including correspondence. ‘‘I said no,’’ Purcell wrote. A few days later TrustNet repeated the denial by letter. ‘‘Portcullis TrustNet (Hong Kong) Limited does not hold any corporate or statutory records of the Company, nor is it required to,’’ the letter said. However, the details the police were looking for would have been instantly available on Pur#dhcell’s computer. The leaked Trust#dhNet documents show that she routinely used the company’s Offshore Management Information System (OMIS), which was available in all the TrustNet offices and contained all the client records.
The OMIS database, which was leaked to ICIJ, lists Sound Financial Management’s director and shareholder as Glen Douglas Crankshaw, a Canadian living near Bangkok. TrustNet helped his company open a bank account at the Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong branch, located on the ground floor of the same building as TrustNet. According to Purcell’s notes, she told them none of this. Two years later the Hong Kong police issued an arrest warrant for Crankshaw for ‘‘dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent the proceeds of indictable crime’’. They had traced him through a different offshore company, with the similar name ‘‘GS Sound Management Limited’’.
Purcell has since returned to help run TrustNet’s office on Auckland’s North Shore. She remains part of a network of New Zealand offshore lawyers scattered in tax havens around the world. They include former TrustNet lawyer Barry Mitchell who, according to court documents, gave assistance during the setting up of the Trinity investment scheme, New Zealand’s largest tax avoidance case; and Act Party-aligned blogger Cathy Odgers (‘‘Cactus Kate’’) who has worked as an offshore lawyer in the British Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
Various offshore lawyers have brought their skills home, taking advantage of New Zealand’s loose company and trust law. The original TrustNet lawyers, Breed and Sceats, came home and set up Nexus Trust, promoting New Zealand’s tax haven potential to foreign clients. Two other former Cook Island lawyers, Nick Shepherd and (Here former European Pacific executive) Mike Reynolds set up Anchor Trustees which offers services to ‘‘non-resident families and corporates’’.
Long-term TrustNet client Tim Brears on Auckland’s North Shore offers clients advice on the ‘‘advantages of moving ownership and control of assets and investment offshore out of New Zealand’’. #
Nicky Hager has worked in a multi-country team for the past 15 months analysing the leaked materials and #co-ordinating local journalists in Asia, Africa and part of Europe who collaborated in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists project, www.icij.org.
Last year 60 Minutes did a report on New Zealand as a tax haven. To view the video GO HERE