NZ urged to act on Panama Papers

7:01 am on 11 April 2016

New Zealand is being accused of dragging its heels in response to the Panama Papers as the rest of the world starts to crack down on tax avoiders and money launderers.

Buildings in Panama City on April 4, 2016

Panama is creating an international panel to help clean up its offshore financial industry. Photo: AFP

Britain's banks have until the end of the week to say whether they have ties with Mossack Fonseca, the United States will force banks to identify who is behind shell companies and more than 800 Australians are under investigation across the Tasman.

All this comes after a huge leak of confidential documents from the Panamanian law firm revealed how the rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth.

European Union tax commissioner Pierre Muscovici has vowed to close loopholes, and wants to set up a blacklist of tax havens.

"We don't have that at the moment, I want the EU to have one in six months time," he said.

Even the country at the centre of it all, Panama, was creating an international panel to help clean up its offshore financial industry.

Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics claims that Tony Falkenstein, was the target of online attacks written by the blogger Cameron Slater.

Journalist Nicky Hager said the Prime Minister could not pretend New Zealand wasn't doing anything wrong. Photo: RNZ

However, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has resisted calls for action, despite further evidence this country was being used as a tax shelter.

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager said New Zealand's name cropped up regularly in leaks about the use of foreign trusts to evade tax and launder money, and the Panama papers were just the latest to confirm that.

"This is actually the fourth in a row. I was involved in the first one, which was 1.3 or something million tax haven documents, and there have been two smaller ones since, and this is the fourth time."

He said Mr Key could not pretend everything was fine, and New Zealand was doing nothing wrong.

"I've actually worked on stories myself where extremely corrupt people from Eastern Europe have used companies and trusts in New Zealand which couldn't be easily followed and couldn't be easily uncovered, specifically to help hide their money around the world.

"I just don't think the government is being straight on this," Mr Hagar said.

The offices of law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama City.

The offices of law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama City. Photo: AFP

Transparency International New Zealand said it had repeatedly warned the government about weaknesses in corporate ownership and trust legislation for more than 15 years.

Its chair, Suzanne Snively, said this should now be a priority for the government.

"What's required here is an oversight that means that we are clear about what's in those [foreign] trusts is what should be in those trusts - not illegal activity or assets from offshore that really belong somewhere else."

However, Robin Oliver, a former Inland Revenue deputy commissioner and now director of tax advisory firm Oliver Shaw, was urging critics to calm down.

He said the IRD was already part of the OECD's push to improve information swapping about errant taxpayers.

"We are doing something which is through our Inland Revenue Department, which is international second to none in this area, and everybody knows that.

"I think overseas people would regard it as a joke that New Zealanders is getting hysterical about this."

Mr Oliver said IRD was waiting to get information on whether any New Zealanders were involved in the Panama leak.

And while the government was reluctant to make changes and toughen up the foreign trust regime, any New Zealanders named in the papers trying to avoid paying their fair share of tax were likely to see a swift reaction from the tax collector, he said.

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