12 Nov 2012

Trinity tax avoidance case appeal fails

8:48 am on 12 November 2012

An effort to overturn the Trinity tax avoidance case has failed, spelling the end of the long-running saga.

The Supreme Court first ruled on the forestry scheme in 2008, and it sparked a number of high profile tax avoidance cases that ended in favour of Inland Revenue, including Penny and Hooper, and the major banks.

A partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Elle Ward, says the latest appeal by some of the 300 investors in the Trinity scheme received short shrift by the Supreme Court.

"The Trinity case relates to a scheme set up in 1996 I think, which allowed investors in a forestry project to claim tax deductions up to 50 years earlier than they were actually paying the cash over in relation to the project. The investors saw that as reasonable tax planning - IRD argued avoidance."

Ms Ward says it was one of the first cases to be heard in New Zealand in relation to tax avoidance and before that decisions had come out of the Privy Council in London.

She says the New Zealand courts have taken quite a different approach to what is considered reasonable tax planning and what is considered pushing the line too far into avoidance.

Ms Ward says if this case had been successfully challenged, it could have called into question the approach that is being taken in New Zealand.

She says in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that the Trinity case was tax avoidance and generally there is no right to appeal.

"But you can appeal if you argue that there has been a fraud by the commissioner, which is what the Trinity investors tried to argue."

However, Ms Ward says the court has said there was no fraud, the judgement stands and that is the end of the road for the Trinity investors who will need to pay the taxes and penalties that go with that.