19 Apr 2018

The Daphne Project: DIA to meet with Auckland firm

8:11 pm on 19 April 2018

The Department of Internal Affairs will be meeting with a company at the centre of a story raising concerns about how people might be using company structures in New Zealand.

Department of Internal Affairs

Internal Affairs Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Journalist Nicky Hager has identifed an Auckland company, Denton Morrell, as helping to manage a network of New Zealand-registered businesses and trusts for clients which may be used by international money launderers.

Sources claim this network leads back to the Azerbaijan government, which has been accused of corruption and money laundering.

The sole director of Denton Morrell is Matthew Butterfield.

He did not want to make any comment on this story.

Internal Affairs said Denton Morrell was one of its reporting entities under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009.

It said it would meet with him next week to discuss the issues raised in the RNZ story.

Internal Affairs said a 'desk-based' review of the company in 2015 found it to be compliant with anti-money laundering laws, but it would now conduct an on-site inspection to see how it was meeting its obligation.

Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi said the government was planning a law change to companies law, to make sure it was transparent as it should be.

"We think it can be tighter that's why next month we're going to be starting a process to increase the transparency around beneficial ownership of companies...to get to the bottom of who's the beneficial owner.

"In this instance the way that the system is set up hasn't allowed that."

Law changes in the past have introduced the requirement for companies to have a New Zealand owner or director, but Mr Faafoi said that did not always make clear who was behind the company.

"Companies within that or shell companies can be controlled by other people, it's one thing to have someone registered, down as an owner or a shareholder or director, it's another to find out who's actually running the operation, or benefiting from the operation."

In terms of reputational risk, Mr Faafoi said New Zealand had a "pretty good" name.

"But what it does highlight is we have to be vigilant, the change in law was obviously made around trusts but if things pop up in new ways of taking advantages of systems that do have good reputations around the world...we've got to make sure that the system can move with it."

Officials had been working on this for some time, he said, and the government would start a submission process towards the end of next month.

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