Expert to review NZ trust rules

The New Zealand government is set to have an independent expert go over New Zealand’s trust disclosure rules in the wake of the Panama Papers leak.

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A week after the papers revealed how the world’s elite have been hiding their cash from the taxman and Prime Minister John Key denied the country was a tax haven, “a very quick proposal” will go to cabinet on Monday for an expert to vet the rules.

“An international expert, independently, shall go away and have a look at our disclosure rules and just see if there are any improvements there,” Key told TV3’s Paul Henry program.

“If there can be improvements, we’ll make improvements.”

The leak of 11.5 million documents from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca is considered to be the largest in history and reveal the existence of 214,000 foreign trusts and companies set up in more than 200 countries for Mossack Fonseca’s wealthy clients.

More than 11,000 foreign trusts have been set up in New Zealand, with the country reported to be mentioned 60,000 times in the Panama leak.

But Key is adamant that, based on advice, New Zealand is not a tax haven.

It was ranked in the world’s top 20 for disclosure and had 40 double-tax agreements and 11 information-sharing agreements with other countries, he said.

Law changes since 2009 meant trust firms had to know the source of their income and what was in their accounts.

He acknowledged reports of the 60,000 references to New Zealand in the Panama Papers, but that was over 40 years and bound to include shell companies that were set up before law changes in 2014.

Key wouldn’t support NZ First’s Winston Peters’ call for a commission of inquiry into the matter.

He said he himself had two New Zealand trusts, listed in parliament’s pecuniary interests register, one of which was a blind trust and he didn’t know what it invested in.