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Pandora papers and NZ

Written By: - Date published: 8:42 am, October 9th, 2021 - 18 comments
Categories: economy, Economy, tax - Tags: , ,

While we have mainly been occupied with containing the current Covid-19 outbreak, world news has been looking at 11.9 million documents revealing dirty or questionable flows of capital and tax dodging by the affluent. Frequently it also looks like corrupt and criminal.

What was most interesting to me was Matt Nippert pointing out that we still haven’t closed off these flows into NZ. “Pandora Papers: Plans to reform a NZ tax loophole stalled ‘due to lack of resources’“. Unfortunately it is paywalled at the NZ Herald.

While the explosive revelations about prominent figures set off political tremors in dozens of countries yesterday, the investigation has also raised serious questions about how successive New Zealand governments approached international tax and offshore finance.

Four years ago, the National government promised to close a loophole that enabled New Zealand foreign trusts to become tax-free vehicles after an earlier massive leak, the Panama Papers, revealed they had been widely used by overseas residents.

Officials at Inland Revenue had long flagged concerns that “jurisdictional arbitrage”, whereby company service providers and their clients took advantage of a quirk in New Zealand law that meant they could set up trusts that would not be taxed anywhere in the world.

After the Panama Papers were uncovered in 2016, it was revealed that more than 12,000 New Zealand foreign trusts had been set up, which were subject to minimal scrutiny.

Judith Collins, the Revenue minister at the time, announced a suite of reforms the following year, including closing the loophole by making foreign trusts subject to New Zealand tax if the people using them were not paying tax elsewhere in the world. The government initially set a deadline of 2019 to allow the trust industry to prepare its clients for this new regime.

However, documents obtained by the Herald through the Official Information Act reveal that the proposal has languished.

NZ Herald: “”Pandora Papers: Plans to reform a NZ tax loophole stalled ‘due to lack of resources’

However Nippert details that this set of reforms has not been done yet. It is on the pile of work to be done. But no legislative action has happened yet. That is unacceptable.

There are several issues with having this kind of money come into NZ from its sources to the tax avoidance and money laundering aspects. From the whiff of corruption, tax evasion

But for me, the primary problem is that it is just detrimental to actual investment in the NZ economy and we don’t receive any benefit from the practice. Except for the few law firms and companies dabbling in this “cottage industry”, it does nothing but harm to the rest of our economy.

Mostly the capital just passes through, and doesn’t productively rest in NZ for any length of time.

The actual money or assets are actually held offshore. Where it does lie in NZ , from my understanding, it seems to mostly go into unproductive speculative activity. Raising property prices on unused mansions or buying estates in tourism destinations.

We don’t collect much if any tax on the money flow. Moreover we simply aren’t in a position to collect any tax on it. As the Matt Nippert article shows from the papers coming from the IRD is that we simply don’t have any capacity to chase tax on these kinds of trusts, and it is unlikely that possible returns will ever get large enough to develop that capacity.

All we are doing is depriving other countries with legitimate tax or legal claims from collecting it. What it does do is to undercut the NZ position on multilateral controls on tax rates worldwide, reducing tax havens, and major companies running no or minimal tax regimes. Like Google or Amazon or many of the tech giants have been doing.

It also means that anyone wanting to actually invest legitimately in productive enterprises in NZ has the authorities in source tax areas looking at those investments as being probable tax evasion. After all NZ now has a reputation of being some kind of tax haven or path on the laundering of dirty money or assets.

I can’t think of a single good reason why the New Zealand public should support this regime. If we don’t have the capacity to modify the scheme to our benefit in a timely manner – then the course of action is obvious.

Treat this as another bad idea from the 4th Labour government and another vague and useless aspiration supported by John Key (he has a lot of those).

Just kill the supporting legislation immediately, and replace it with legislation by the current lawyers on the trusts that forces the open declaration of all assets held to the IRD, and retrospective taxation back to 2019.

After all, everyone was warned that the gravy train would get closed off in 2019. I’m sure that we will get a cross-party support to do this expeditiously.

18 comments on “Pandora papers and NZ ”

  1. dv 1

    Have a transaction tax of say 1% to trap the money transfers at the border.

  2. Ad 2

    +100

    OMG imagine if this government enabled IRD to go after the wealth held in good old family trusts. That's where our money is.

    • lprent 2.1

      Different problem to foreign trusts.

      Many of the obvious tax abuses have been closed off in family trusts and other local trusts in the last 6-7 years. They are much more regulated than they were.

      • georgecom 2.1.1

        like when a now former Prime Minister could not remember exactly how his trusts operated, or how many KiwiRail shares they bought or when.

  3. Hunter Thompson II 3

    Read the report commissioned from a former PwC partner for the details.

    http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/reviews-consultation/foreign-trust-disclosure-rules

    NZ was used by overseas persons to dodge offshore taxes. The foreign trust industry here has certainly been curtailed.

    • Tricledrown 3.1

      The Cook Islands and Niue NZ protectorates which use NZ currency deeply involved.

      Samoa also.

      Aid to these countries should be suspended until they open the books and stop any money laundering.

    • lprent 3.2

      The foreign trust industry here has certainly been curtailed.

      Ah no. That report was what led National in 2016 to say that they would be doing the work to curtail it in 2019. But…

      However, documents obtained by the Herald through the Official Information Act reveal that the proposal has languished.

      In a 2018 briefing to Stuart Nash, Labour's Revenue minister at the time, officials said that while ministers had approved closing the loophole and legislation had been passed, "enactment was deferred for further design work…"

      Inland Revenue did not enact the proposal under the last Labour-led government, and it has not done so this term under current Revenue minister, David Parker, either.

      Parker told the Herald the proposal is not dead.

      "This proposal remains on the Government's tax work policy programme," the minister said.

      Nippert's article

      I have updated the post – because that was the point of the post – that work has not been completed. I didn’t put that in the post.

  4. Descendant Of Smith 4

    One problem with trusts is beneficiaries not always knowing they are beneficiaries and so therefore don't know they can access money and/or trustees not allowing access. This is particularly true for those with disabilities and women.

    I've had to sort out a few where disabled people were living a miserable life on benefit.

    One odious example was when family members (accountants and lawyers) were managing the trust the parents set up upon their deaths knowing that when the disabled person died they, the other family members, would get it. The trust generated income of $65,000 per year most years and they were just letting it accumulate for their later benefit. Got another lawyer involved and got the trust dissolved and the money distributed to the person. Interestingly within days of the legal action commencing they received a lump sum payment of over $100,000 for income forgone for the preceding 5 years in an effort to stop the trust being dissolved with the promise of another 10 years to come. Fifteen years the trust had been in place and they hadn't been paid a cent in all that time although the set was set up for their welfare. They live a very different life now.

    And then there was the time I turned 18 and discovered I had had an aunty set up a trust in my name to minimise her tax on interest. Apparently this was common place setting up trusts in your young nieces and nephews names and grand children's names. I never saw a cent of course.

    There should be a compulsory register of beneficiaries.

  5. Brendan 5

    Welcome to the legal arms race.

    Sure we can do this, but the reality is that tax reduction stratergies will continue for decades to come.

    • lprent 5.1

      It really isn't a question of if we want to do this – we have to do this. There is now an international agreement that this kind of shit needs to stop. The legal arms race has already been lost by the shifty, now the details are being cleaned up.

      For instance today…

      The world’s most powerful nations agreed on Friday to a sweeping overhaul of international tax rules, with officials backing a 15 percent global minimum tax and other changes aimed at cracking down on tax havens that have drained countries of much-needed revenue.

      The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has been leading the negotiations, said the new minimum tax rate would apply to companies with annual revenue of more than 750 million euros ($866 million) and would generate around $150 billion in additional global tax revenue per year.

      “Today’s agreement will make our international tax arrangements fairer and work better,” Mathias Cormann, the organization’s secretary general, said in a statement. “We must now work swiftly and diligently to ensure the effective implementation of this major reform.”

      And

      On Friday, Hungary joined two other important holdouts, Ireland and Estonia, in agreeing to the plan. Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did not sign on to the agreement.

      Ireland was the last significiant holdout. That was the crucial agreement because it means that in principle the world has agreed on a common tax policy for the first time. The weight of the world will now descend on to the hold-outs as well as any laggards.

      You can expect that there will be a significiant tightening up on other aspects of tax evasion and tax avoidance over the coming decade.

      Places like Nevis, Belize, …., South Dakota, and New Zealand will be getting the hotfoot if they don't reform their practices.

      • Brendan 5.1.1

        A well reasoned answer.

        While I note that practices have improved a lot in the past few decades

        • FACTA and CRS making it harder to hide money.
        • Bearer shares (Shares which give the holder of the certificate the powers over the company – i.e. hide your cash) are being regulated.
        • KYC makes it harder to hide stuff.

        However there is a huge amount of work to do.

        • Who is enforcing the rules? The IRS was defunded under Trump
        • Places that make huge money from these ventures will want to keep the money coming in (e.g. Delaware, Lichtenstein etc.).
        • The CIA will want to keep some of their assets secret (e.g. That crypto company in Switzerland which the Argentines used during the Fakland war).
        • Americans face tax on worldwide income (even if you have never lived in the USA) – expect this to be an issue for Americans who will renouce citizenship for lower taxes.

        Anybody in offshore consulting will do very well.

  6. Descendant Of Smith 6

    As will laundering money through casinos, art and housing.

    Julien didn’t seem perturbed by kleptocrats eyeing his auction house as a potential means of transforming their dirty money into valuable memorabilia. Dirty money, after all, is worth just as much as the clean — and all that matters is that these auction houses attract clients. “At the end of the day it’s really what someone does with the money, how they obtain it, that’s not our [business],” the affable Julien told me.

    https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/teodoro-obiang-michael-jackson-memorabilia-collection-1237437/#recipient_hashed=46384fbcee6cca26db5ae54f82d672de9470690e01bee1cda74bc41f4bf83d28

  7. aj 7

    This reporter asks a number of very interesting questions about the Pandora Papers. Probably a far deeper pond of corruption and money laundering would become apparent if the ICIJ were to be more open.

    Pandora Papers: is the world’s biggest leak the world’s biggest cover-up?

    Another “biggest data leak in history”, another trove mega-leaks where billionaires, celebrities, Italian mobsters, Russian oligarchs and foreign heads of state have been outed for their links to tax havens.

    But where are the US politicians? Where are the Wall Streeters? Where are the Big Four, the masterminds of global tax avoidance PwC, EY, KPMG and Deloitte?

    Conspicuously absent, that’s where. Again.

    Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

  8. Byd0nz 8

    All so primitive. A future World Without Money will put paid to all this immorality of corrupt money systems. Too bad we will be long dead before this comes to pass.

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