Greens Bill would shine light on foreign trust 'secrecy'

Greens Bill would shine light on foreign trust 'secrecy'

Opposition parties believe New Zealand is a tax haven for the rich and powerful, but the Government maintains its system is open and transparent.

The Green Party will seek leave of Parliament today to introduce a Member's Bill which it says would end secrecy around foreign trusts in New Zealand.

It is in response to an unprecedented leak of millions of documents, known as the Panama Papers, which shine a light on the secretive world for foreign trusts.

New Zealand repeatedly appears in the documents as a place where foreign trusts are set up.

Greens co-leader James Shaw says New Zealand's reputation is at stake and Parliament needs to address the issue immediately.

The Bill would require trustees to disclose the full information about the settlors, trustees and beneficiaries of the trust which would be published by IRD in an online register.

"John Key might think it's a great idea for New Zealand to become a magnet for multi-millionaire tax evaders, but the Green Party doesn't want New Zealand to be seen as a haven for tax dodgers.

"Currently the IRD asks for just the most basic information about foreign trusts, but I think New Zealanders have a right to know who is benefiting from secretive foreign trusts in our country," Mr Shaw says.

Among the details in the papers is Malta's energy minister Konrad Mizzi who set up a New Zealand trust which was linked to a secret Dubai bank account and two Panama companies.

Since the story broke internationally, the New Zealand Government has denied the country has become a tax haven.

"New Zealand is a signatory to 40 double tax agreements and 11 tax information-sharing agreements, one of those includes Malta," Prime Minister John Key says.

"What's required as a result of that, is any trust -- both the registration of the trust and the trustees -- has to be recorded by New Zealand and any of those countries can, under New Zealand law, ask for full disclosure of what's in the trust."

Mr Key did not know whether information was asked for in the Malta case.

Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse says IRD has "no particular interest" in the obligations for foreign trusts to pay tax overseas.

IRD shares information when they're asked to and does so proactively with Australia and the US, and is in discussion with the OECD about what a new framework might look like, Mr Woodhouse says.

"I think that's a pretty sound response."

Labour leader Andrew Little says more needs to be known about how many foreign trusts are in New Zealand to figure out the scale of the problem and what response is needed to maintain the country's reputation.

"This is a problem today. This is a problem now. It's a problem confronting John Key. He's the Prime Minister, he's in charge of the Government, it's his job to act. Stop blaming everybody else, get on and do something."

Mr Little believes New Zealand is a tax haven because there is a lot of information that isn't known about what in the foreign trusts.

"We don't know what's in them, we don't know the size of the assets that have been put in those trusts, we don't know the origin of the assets in those trusts. This is all the sort of stuff that's characterised as a tax haven."

The Greens' proposed Bill had previously been in the ballot under former co-leader Russel Norman's name.