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Written By: - Date published: 4:51 pm, August 20th, 2014 - 22 comments
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Tim Hunter aka “Chalkie” has a fascinating article in today’s DomPost on why foreigners are so keen to buy New Zealand assets – tax. He discusses Wellington Electricity Network and Lochinver to make the point that “the real appeal of investing in New Zealand is how easily foreign companies manage to avoid paying tax” – anywhere.

“There are huge tax advantages available to overseas investors that simply cannot be accessed by locals. They crank up the returns available to foreign buyers and make New Zealand assets worth more to overseas owners than to New Zealand residents.”

He looks Wellington Electricity Network as an example, and also Lochinver. Read it and weep – or get mad.

WED was bought by Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings  for $785million. It makes a loss, not because of its cashflow but because of its debt – 80% of its asset value. The debt is to a CKI company registered in the British Virgin Islands at a premium rate 12.5%. It pays no tax in New Zealand becuase of the loss and pays no tax anywhere else because it is owned in the Bahamas “where , like BVI, the tax system is a warm bath for companies to float in the dark and listen to the sound of money – no company tax, no withholding tax, no captial gains tax, nothing.”

Chalike discusses the Lochinver sale as well.

Chalkie reckons we should welcome foreign investment, but not so much that we meet it at the airport with the tax equivalent of a red carpet on the tarmac, a chauffeur-driven limousine, free accommodation at Kauri Cliffs and an invite to John Key’s house for drinkies every Friday night. Whatever the benefits of overseas ownership – and there will be some – Chalkie reckons we should also take account of the costs.

The issue is the same whether the assets are companies or farmland. The would-be buyer of Lochinver Station near Taupo has been named as Pure 100 Farm, described by the Overseas Investment Office as “a wholly owned subsidiary of Shanghai Pengxin Group”.

It may be, but its immediate parent is Milk New Zealand Holding, owner of the former Crafar and Synlait farms in Waikato and Canterbury. Milk New Zealand Holding is wholly owned not by Shanghai Pengxin, but by Milk New Zealand Investment, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The ownership was disclosed to the Companies Office on August 13.

Chalkie reckons owning New Zealand farms through a Caribbean tax haven may have tax advantages – or is that xenophobic?

The ownership was disclosed on August 13. On August 2 Farrar’s Kiwiblog (repeated in National Business Review) carried this post in support of Steven Joyce’s “xenophobia” attack on Labour’s Grant Robertson on TV3’s The Nation.

Interestingly, a couple of the commenters on Kiwiblog were awake to the murky ownership of the Lochinver would-be  buyers. However I think Chalkie is right – we should pay attention to the costs of foreign investment, and we need tot alk about that rec carpet rollout.

Joyce’s thoughtless bullying exemplifying National’s thoughtless  “soundbite” approach leaves New Zealand wide open. At least Labour will keep New Zealand for New Zealanders and will also close the tax loopholes available to multinational corporates.

Time for a change.

P.S. For more on Wellington Electricity Network’s history and the stupidity of asset sales to foreigners, see this Fabian Society paper comparing outcomes for water and electricity networks in Wellington.





22 comments on “Taxenophobia”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz 1

    Milk NZ Holdings were only able to buy the former Crafar farms because the National government stepped in to require the taxpayers milk the cows for them.

    Thats right they worked out a deal for Landcorp to become sharemilkers on someone elses land. Its crazy and not why we have a SOE involved in agriculture. I know that some people have long term leases on landcorp farms and some sharemilkers are on landcorp dairy farms.
    But the other way around ???

  2. hoom 2

    In the beginnings of the USA the citizens had the issue of Taxation without Representation.

    The world currently has the reverse problem of Rich & Corporates who have excessive Representation and no Taxation.

  3. ghostwhowalksnz 3

    As an aside I thought we had strict ‘thin capitalization’ rules to knock out most of this borrowing the lot off shore

    Seems as though there is looholes

  4. alwyn 4

    I notice that you did a fairly selective edit of the article.
    The main organisation he talks about was Wellington Network which Chalkie says was bought in 2008 when, guess who (hint starts with an L) were the Government. He also says that, under a National Government the IRD are going to tighten up on the rules.
    Yes the rules are wrong but at least the current Government plan to do something about it.

    • infused 4.1

      Yeah, Labour flogged that one off… on the quiet too.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.2

      The main organisation he talks about was Wellington Network which Chalkie says was bought in 2008 when, guess who (hint starts with an L) were the Government.

      And a lot of us were saying at the time that it should have come under the Strategic Assets legislation that the Labour led government had just passed.

      Yes the rules are wrong but at least the current Government plan to do something about it.

      So do the next government. Thing is, we’ve known about these tax loopholes for years and National haven’t actually done anything about them. Instead they’ve been passing laws that damage working peoples rights, engaging in beneficiary bashing and giving state subsidies to WB, Rio Tinto and SkyCity.

      And, yes, I’ll agree that a government can’t do everything at once but these should have been a priority in 2008 or earlier.

  5. disturbed 5

    Can we get someone to compile an up to date list of foreign companies take overs as this as Farrar “taxpayers Union” or Government has yet to do.

    List of foreign taxpayers rip-off”s of the N.Z. taxpayer.

    1/ Lochinvar Station. to Shanghai Pengxin Group”.
    2/ 49% sale of Mighty river power, ?
    3/ Crafer Farms, to Milk NZ Holdings – British Virgin Islands
    4/ Wellington Electricity Ltd – Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings
    5/ Genesis Energy, to ?
    6/ Meridian Energy, ?

    Add to anyone.

    • Gareth 5.1

      ASB, ANZ, BNZ, National, Westpac

      • TheContrarian 5.1.1

        Westpac has always been an Aussie bank and ASB was, from memory, never owned by the govt. Same goes with ANZ too actually – was never a govt owned banking outfit.

        • felix

          I think the australian-owned westpac bought and subsumed the locally-owned trustbank, hence westpactrust.

          • TheContrarian

            True they did (like ANZ acquiring National bank) but Westpac and ANZ were always foreign owned and ASB has never been publicly owned.

            All three, however, have consumed and assimilated NZ owned enterprises. Except for maybe ASB

    • disturbed 5.2

      Updated any further?

      Can we get someone to compile an up to date list of foreign companies take overs as this as Farrar “taxpayers Union” or Government has yet to do.
      List of foreign taxpayers rip-off”s of the N.Z. taxpayer.

      1/ Lochinvar Station. to Shanghai Pengxin Group”.
      2/ 49% sale of Mighty river power, ?
      3/ Crafer Farms, to Milk NZ Holdings – British Virgin Islands
      4/ Wellington Electricity Ltd – Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings
      5/ Genesis Energy, to ?
      6/ Meridian Energy, ?
      8/Partial sale of Air NZ.
      9/Wairakei geothermal Power Station, to Contact/Origin Energy
      10/ Works Infrastructure ex (M.O.W). to Downer (Aust’)

  6. mikesh 6

    It’s about time interest was declared non deductible. It’s not really a business expense in any case.

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    If that article is right, and I have no reason to doubt it, and Labour et al do close the tax loopholes (which I also have no reason to doubt) then you can start counting the time until foreign investors start running for the hills as their tax exempt status gets shut off.

  8. ianmac 8

    Who could ask if Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings paid any tax in NZ?
    Mr Key is very well informed and open and transparent.

  9. Alistair Connor 9

    The important point is that the various “free trade” treaties NZ has signed, or is negotiating, make it obligatory that the country be open to foreign investment.

    This is sold with “level playing field” arguments. But the playing field will never be level between local companies and multinational firms — or perhaps we should call them “non-national firms”, because they might as well be domiciled on the moon if they escape all tax jurisdictions.

    The case of Wellington’s electricity distribution is a blatant example. The story of the 12% interest rate paid to a letterbox in the Virgin Islands cries out for a law change — it would surely be legitimate to tax at, say 50%, interest paid to related parties at above market rates?

    I am opposed to all further opening of trade — in particular, the Pacific treaty under negotiation — until such time as a satisfactory international tax treaty has been established (which is likely never…)

  10. Rolf 11

    This is a trick used all over the world now, not only concerning New Zeeland. The investor put his money in a bank in, for instance UAE. He takes a loan from a bank or financial institution in BVI or Singapore, the UAE bank balance is the security. The loan interest and cost from BVI or Singapore is set high, and pay for the other costs many times over. The cost of money, interest to the BVI or Singapore is of course deductible as a commercial expense, hence no or little tax in the end. All the high tax nations are exposed to this, the real investor may even live in the same country, in this case, he lives in New Zealand, but is hidden from view through the system. This way the costs are high, and he does not have to pay tax. The only remedy is to cut the tax.

  11. Rich 12

    Cutting the tax rate? That won’t do anything, quite obviously the preffered tax rate is 0%.

    But as someone said elsewhere cut the tax claim on interest, and you will defeat this. Sure it will get a few legitimate businesses a bit antsy at first but then if your gearing is reasonable, you will be able to handle it. Well run debt evasive companies and businesses will do well.

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