19 Jun 2018

New Zealand not immune to international financial crime - minister

6:57 pm on 19 June 2018

The government has unveiled a potential set of law changes to crack down on overseas criminals potentially misusing companies in New Zealand.

Minister for Civil Defence and Commerce and Consumer Affairs Kris Faafoi, speaking at the Kaikoura Harbour re-opening, 14 November 2017.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi has released a discussion document outlining the changes and expects feedback from interested parties through until August.

He said the goal is to curb money-laundering and the ability of overseas based criminals to use New Zealand's well-regarded companies register to conceal some of their business.

"Certainly we're cracking down on beneficial ownership and figuring out who the beneficial owners are of companies that are registered here in New Zealand... [so we know] exactly who controls those and where the money flows are going to," said Mr Faafoi.

He said it was known there were still people in New Zealand acting as directors when they had been banned from doing so in other jurisdictions, and this was not acceptable.

"We need to strengthen our corporate governance to stop this erosion of New Zealand as a good place for honest business."

While New Zealand is not a major centre for financial crime internationally, Mr Faafoi said it was certainly not immune.

"Police estimate $1.35 billion in proceeds of fraud and illegal drugs is laundered through corporate entities in New Zealand," he said.

"Our good name of our companies office is at an advantage but also one of the vulnerabilities in the system because people see it as a solid place to do business and therefore we can be a target.

"So making sure we do everything to increase the transparency and also be tougher on people who look to misuse the register is really important."

Mr Faafoi said beneficial owners were a major area of focus, but the discussion document was also seeking feedback on other issues.

"This includes improving regulation of directors which I understand could be enacted relatively quickly."

Details of the proposals and how to submit feedback on the proposals can be found on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.