By Bernard Hickey
Responding to more detailed reports of New Zealand's role as a tax haven in the Panama Papers, Prime Minister John Key has attacked one of the local reporters looking at the papers and described the 61,000 mentions of New Zealand as nothing more than a 'footnote.'
Key told TVNZ, NewstalkZB and Newshub in interviews this morning that New Zealand was hardly mentioned in global news reports about the Panama Papers.
"My officials have gone all over the world looking at all the things around the Panama Papers. New Zealand is barely even mentioned," he told TVNZ.
He was not asked about reports by the Australian Financial Review's Neil Chenoweth, who has seen the Panama Papers, describing New Zealand as a 'quiet tax haven achiever' and that Key had fought to retain the current tax rules. Chenoweth also detailed the role of Key's personal lawyer, Ken Whitney, in giving a reference to Mossack Fonseca. Whitney successfully lobbied Key and then Revenue Minister Todd McClay to block IRD plans to review New Zealand's foreign trust regime, as detailed here on April 28.
Key said the reports showed the journalists had not found any New Zealanders using the trusts to avoid tax, which was different to the period before 1988 when the Cook Islands was being used for such purposes. He described the non-appearance of New Zealanders as a sign of the robustness of the tax system.
He denied that New Zealand was at the centre of the tax haven activity.
"There are 215,00 entities identified, about 350 in New Zealand. The investigative journalists around the world have listed the top 10 tax havens in the world. We're not on it," he told Mike Hosking on NewstalkZB.
"Nicky Hager says we're a tax haven, but with the greatest respect Nicky Hager is a left-wing conspiracy theorist," he said.
"We have complied with every single request for information this country's had. We proactively, by the way, give that information to Australia and we were already working on a Bill that will allow us to have even greater automatic release," he said.
'If we need to we'll change the rules'
Key said John Shewan was conducting a thorough review of the foreign trusts, "and if it shows anything we'll change it."
"If more is required, if there should be better information, if there is things that will enhance the process, then we will do it," he said.
Key also spoke to Paul Henry on TV3, but refused to do a previously agreed interview with RNZ's Guyon Espiner.
Venezuelan bankers and Israeli drone dealers
This morning Radio New Zealand's Patrick O'Meara, Jane Patterson and Gyles Beckford, TVNZ's Andrea Vance, Lee Taylor and Jessica Mutch, and Nicky Hager published reports after having been behind the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' (ICIJ) firewall protecting the Panama Papers for a week.
TVNZ reported "tens of thousands of Panama Papers documents reveal how New Zealand, Niue, The Cook Islands and Samoa have become prime destinations for the rich to hide their financial secrets."
RNZ reported New Zealand was "at the heart of a tangled web of secretive shelf companies and obscure trusts being used by well-heeled South Americans to organise their private wealth, business affairs, and channel their funds around the world."
RNZ and TVNZ detailed the central role of Bentley's tax partner Roger Thompson at the heart of Mossack Fonseca's activities in New Zealand and deals involving the creation of New Zealand foreign trusts by a Venezuealan banker and an Israeli supplier of drones to the Mexican Government to target drug cartels.
Key denies responsibility for Cook Islands' tax affairs
Over the weekend Key was the only politician named by the Panama Papers' leaker, John Doe, in his or her's first statement. See more here in Gareth Vaughan's piece on Doe's criticisms over John Key's actions, or lack of them, over the role of the Cook Islands.
Key responded to reporters in a stand-up on the fringes of a National Party conference later on Saturday, saying the leaker was confused about his role in relation to the Cook Islands.
"I have as much responsibility for tax in the Cook Islands as I do for Russia," he said, adding New Zealand tax officials had worked with Cook Island authorities over the years to ensure 'best practice', but New Zealand did not run the Cook Islands' tax affairs.
"That's why I'm quiet about it because I don't have any responsibility for it," he said.
New Zealand signed a tax information sharing agreement with the Cook Islands in 2009 under then Revenue Minister Peter Dunne.
Andrew Little then told Q+A a Labour Government would ban the use of foreign trusts.
"If we want to talk about economic development, there's other things we should be doing. So right now my point is I see no value in them; I'd be getting rid of them. And I think what we'd do is have a close look. If there is no convincing reason, then they will go," Little said.
"It is this sort of stuff — us appearing to harbour the tax avoiders of other countries — that undermines our integrity and reputation," he said.
'Knee-jerk and dangerous move'
Key said Labour's plan to get rid of foreign trusts would be a knee-jerk and dangerous decision.
"If you're going to ban that, what about a foreign company that operates in New Zealand? What about a foreign partnership that might operate in New Zealand? If you talk to the Inland Revenue Department they will tell you we have a very good tax system," he told reporters on Sunday.