Recommendations for foreign trusts having stronger initial registration rules and need for annual returns with distribution details will be 'moved on quickly' by Govt

Former PwC Chairman John Shewan

The Government is acting on all recommendations from the Shewan Inquiry into foreign trust disclosure rules, Finance Minister Bill English and Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse announced today.  

The Inquiry, conducted by Former PwC chairman John Shewan, made a number of recommendations which propose improvements to registration and disclosure of information, anti-money laundering rules and increased information sharing between government agencies. The detail of the Government's response and action plan can be seen here.

"The changes to the foreign trust rules are a matter that the Government intends to move quickly on," English said today.

"...The Government has always been open to making improvements to New Zealand’s already strong tax settings if that was warranted.

"The Shewan Inquiry’s recommendations are sensible and well-reasoned and by acting on all of them, we will ensure that our foreign trust disclosure rules are strengthened and New Zealand’s reputation is protected."

The Government intended to introduce legislation to require a register that is searchable by Internal Affairs and the Police, and annual disclosure requirements in the coming months, English said.

Woodhouse said, however, that while the Government agreed with all of the recommendations from the Shewan inquiry, the way in which "a small number" are implemented will be "tweaked".

“We have already committed to a course of action for strengthening New Zealand’s anti-money laundering rules, which will bring in more comprehensive requirements for lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and others,” Mr Woodhouse says.

“For example, lawyers and accountants will be included in AML/CFT requirements as soon as practicable, However due to issues around legal privilege and regime supervision this will form part of the more substantial AML/CFT reform programme already underway, which is being expedited.”

The Shewan inquiry came in the wake of the Panama Papers, which showed how New Zealand's tax-free trusts were being used to disguise assets and transactions from foreign tax and other authorities.

The Inquiry concluded that the existing foreign trust disclosure rules were inadequate. The rules ware not fit for purpose in the context of preserving New Zealand's reputation as a country that cooperates with other jurisdictions to counter money laundering and aggressive tax practices, Shewan said in his report.

Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said the Government could have avoided "the international stain on our reputation from the Panama Papers", if it had let IRD’s planned review of foreign trusts go ahead three years ago, instead of now belatedly acting because of the Shewan recommendations.

"While the Government’s decision to accept the Shewan recommendations is positive it is a u-turn from John Key’s insistence that New Zealand’s foreign trust system was world class and had full disclosure.

"The harm caused to our international reputation could have been avoided if then Revenue Minister Todd McClay hadn’t canned IRD’s planned review of foreign trusts ‘to protect our international reputation’, after an intervention from John Key’s personal lawyer.

"John Key has been forced into a backdown. At the time of the Panama Papers stories he said, ‘I think New Zealand can stand quite proudly on the regime that it runs here in terms of disclosure’. Instead John Shewan said, ‘The Inquiry concludes that the existing foreign trust disclosure rules are inadequate’."

Robertson said there was "no legitimate reason" to delay the money laundering recommendations.

"Current changes should be merged with the recommendations into a tax bill for 2016. The Government should get on with it."

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8 Comments

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Excellent. This is what's needed for NZ. Sherwin's report was outstanding. It's an almighty back-flip for the government, as JK initially said there was no problem. But good on the Govt for having the guts to shift their position and fix this problem for NZ.

shame we had to go through the whole deny, blame labour, we might look at it to arrive here.
why do they not when they come across a problem just move on it and fix it, this was first highlighted to them years ago

Sounds like a positive move. Perhaps we can do some damage limitation on NZ reputation.

Great to see positive action. Would be better still if we got ahead of the curve and became a global crime prevention leader, but at least putting a big dent in NZ's part in enabling serious crime is a great start.

It might sound like sour grapes that it would have been better for all if we'd just addressed it frankly and forthrightly by focusing on the real issues way back in April without wallowing in all the obfuscating myths about the Panama Papers, but that's the way of politics sometimes. Good result, eventually. Nice to see.

Personally, would much rather not have felt compelled to engage so extensively in this debate, as I might even have finished the PhD thesis on practical ways to boost policy effectiveness regarding AML rules for lawyers, accountants and real estate agents, cut their vulnerabilities and prevent crime. Better get on and finish it now!

Thanks all who engaged and Interest for strong reporting and a great forum for plenty of lively discussion.

Thanks your contribution on this Ron Pol, very good to see your expert opinion on a topic not many people understand. Good luck with the phd.

Cheers rp, Ron (AMLassurance.com)

Yes thanks Ron, we need someone like you to provide some sound guidance to the Government and Media on these issues. It's good that you keep everyone in the loop.

Haha, thanks CJ099 but I do rather suffer from a frankness affliction which governments and media don't always like if they really just want their advisers to confirm the 'already thinking' status quo.

As in any area, where the policy effectiveness magic really happens is when officials, their internal hierachy, politicians, and advisers all want to truly make a difference, that's when NZ can be a world leader, especially in this space where the policy effectiveness quotient globally (objectively assessed, shorn of all pre-conceptions and 'noise') is quite possibly the lowest of any crime prevention measure, ever, anywhere - the opportunity to make a difference is astonishing.

Funny enough, others in that equation sometimes point to officials as the missing link, but my experience is they're often the first ones to get it, and often of course the 4 components never do quite line up, but if it happens in the AML space the returns for NZ Inc are potentially huge on the global stage.