7 Jan 2010

Minister to address company registration concerns

6:00 pm on 7 January 2010

Commerce Minister Simon Power is set to discuss the registration of companies with overseas directors at his first meeting with officials after the summer break.

The Ministry of Economic Development has defended its company registration system following criticism that the system is open to money laundering or terrorist activites.

Government officials have been investigating an Auckland-based company, SP Trading, which is believed to be linked to a North Korean plane found to be carrying 35 tonnes of illegal weapons in Thailand last month.

The New Zealand branch of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International says the case raises questions about the stringency of New Zealand's company incorporation laws; and it's concerned that gaps in the company registration system make New Zealand vulnerable to such activites.

Alarm bells should have rung, says organisation

SP Trading, which nominally chartered the plane, is owned by Viacam, the only shareholder of more than 1000 registered New Zealand companies.

The ministry's business registries manager, Justin Hygate, says that the system is robust, but Transparency International executive officer Paul Browne says there should be processes "that would send alarm bells with this number of companies being formed with offshore directives and without any clear reason for their existence."

The financial action taskforce of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has also warned that gaps in the system could be used by shell companies to launder money and finance terrorism.