Greens: Full Panama Papers revelations could take weeks to find

Greens: Full Panama Papers revelations could take weeks to find

John Key says there's nothing to get excited about in the Panama Papers, saying journalists who spent time working on it have "come up with nothing".

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) this morning published a searchable database it says "strips away the secrecy of nearly 214,000 offshore entities created in 21 jurisdictions". It hasn't published all 11.5 million documents leaked from Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca, which include personal details and emails.

It lists a number of New Zealand-linked offshore entities based in a number of countries including Panama, the British Virgin Islands, Samoa, Niue and the Bahamas.

The ICIJ says the released documents reveal "the secret offshore holdings of 12 world leaders, more than 128 other politicians and scores of fraudsters, drug traffickers and other criminals".

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager and other media outlets had access to the New Zealand information for a week before today's release.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw told Paul Henry on Tuesday morning it's going to take weeks to draw any concrete conclusions: "It's like searching for a needle in a haystack."

Radio New Zealand (RNZ), which had access to the documents for a week before today's release, this morning revealed Prime Minister John Key's legal advisor Ken Whitney has links to Mossack Fonseca through two companies, both registered in the British Virgin Islands.

RNZ also found Mossack Fonseca links to four of the five firms which lobbied then-Revenue Minister Todd McClay in 2014 against a review of New Zealand's foreign trust industry.

Auckland-based law firm Cone Marshall is mentioned 357 times, the most of any New Zealand company. Director Karen Marshall is linked to 214 companies registered in Panama and 1023 in New Zealand, according to RNZ. Her partner Geoffrey Cone is linked to 181 in Panama and 1017 in New Zealand.

"New Zealand has been really active in enabling people from other countries to avoid paying tax in those countries," says Mr Shaw.

"If the Government is okay with people from overseas using New Zealand to avoid paying tax in their countries, is it also okay with Kiwis using other countries to avoid paying tax here?"

This morning, Mr Key said from what he'd seen reported there was a "very tenuous association" with a range of New Zealanders.

"Unless there's something unlawful that people have done, I don't think New Zealanders would have concerns about that. In the end, the IRD are going to have access to all of the information. They can go through and look at all of that, they can check people have done things appropriately and legally correctly.

"I don't think anyone should jump to conclusions just because someone is a director or a trustee of some company in New Zealand by a massive association has somehow dealt with Mossack Fonseca, that they've done something wrong."

Mr Key had previously sought assurances from his now former lawyer Mr Whitney he hadn't had dealings with Mossack Fonseca prior to this morning's data dump, and still believes that is correct.

He says IRD will now be able to "sort out the wheat from the chaff" and take action against anyone who has broken the law.

Anyone who is caught evading their tax obligations in New Zealand could go to prison, Mr Key says.

"It doesn't matter the trust is registered in the British Virgin Islands or anywhere else, it doesn't matter if it's a foreign trust or not, if you don't declare that trust and the trust was liable for New Zealand income tax then you've effectively evaded paying New Zealand income tax and the implications of that are extremely serious." 

Mr Key downplayed any of the links journalists had drawn from their investigations.

"In a funny kind of way so far, given journalists have had it for a long time, [they have] have really come up with nothing from what I can see."

While it could take time to confirm criminal links to New Zealand, Mr Shaw says along with tax avoidance, that's what foreign trusts are used for -- and Mr Key appears to know it.

"Initially the Prime Minister was saying that there was really nothing to see here, there was nothing wrong with this kind of activity, it's a really good business from New Zealand. But as things have dripped out he has started to change his tune."

It has been estimated New Zealand law firms make about $20 million a year from the foreign trust industry, but there are concerns the country's growing reputation as a tax haven will hurt business in the future.

"We went from under 2000 foreign trusts in 2006 to over 10,000 this year. There's been more than a five-fold increase," says Mr Shaw.

Unlike Labour, the Greens are not calling for foreign trusts to be banned. However, Mr Shaw would like the review, headed by former PricewaterhouseCoopers chair John Shewan, to be expanded to cover tax avoidance by multinational companies like Apple and Facebook.

"These things are highly linked to each other."

Labour leader Andrew Little says the "grubby little industry" is doing nothing for New Zealand except to "cause us ongoing international embarrassment".

"I see no purpose in having foreign trusts which allow the world's mega wealthy to put income-generating assets here under a veil of secrecy and to pay no tax in their home countries. We have nothing to gain from that."

He says Mr Key should "exercise good judgement" and shouldn't associate with Mr Whitney any longer.

The late Allan Hubbard and his wife Margaret are mentioned in the Panama Papers.

The prominent Timaru businessman died in a head-on crash in Oamaru in September 2011, and at the time was facing 50 fraud charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office.

His company South Canterbury Finance was placed in receivership in August 2010.

The couple were shareholders in a company called South American Ferro Metals Limited, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands but based in Australia.

They are one of 80 listed shareholders of the company listed in the Panama Papers.

The Hubbards had a registered address in Israel, which was also connected to two other shareholders.


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