27 Apr 2016

Kiwis' concern over tax haven claims revealed

6:04 pm on 27 April 2016

More than half of New Zealanders are worried about the country being a tax haven after the Panama Papers leak, according to a new poll.

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Millions of leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were released in early April. Photo: AFP

The UMR Research survey, commissioned by ActionStation, also shows almost half of those polled thought the government was handling the questions raised by the Panama Papers poorly.

The leak - of millions of documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca - has exposed how the world's wealthy often use trusts in other countries to avoid tax.

In New Zealand, the government has appointed tax expert John Shewan to conduct a review of disclosure rules covering foreign trusts amid claims the country is a tax haven.

The poll found 57 percent of New Zealanders were concerned about the country being a tax haven.

It found 46 percent thought the government was dealing with the issues surrounding New Zealand being a tax haven poorly, while 21 percent thought it was dealing with it well.

It also found that 40 percent of National voters were concerned with foreign trusts being used by people overseas for tax evasion purposes.

Prime Minister John Key said there would always be wild claims made about New Zealand being a tax haven and the operation of foreign trusts, and some members of the public would be influenced by that.

"In the context of disclosure, we believe disclosure is more than adequate in New Zealand, certainly in New Zealand there is no evidence to support New Zealand [being] a tax haven.

"But we have engaged John Shewan to do a thorough review of that and I think he's probably one of the best people in New Zealand to undertake that review, he's certainly an industry expert and people acknowledge that."

The poll found just 31 percent of New Zealanders thought the appointment of Mr Shewan to review New Zealand's foreign trust laws was an adequate response to the foreign trust issue, while more than half believed a full public independent inquiry was needed.

But Mr Key remained adamant a full inquiry was not the way to go.

"The review of the disclosure is important, and the work that we'll do around tax is important but there's nothing else that stands out particularly."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the poll result was no surprise.

"We've been dragged down our reputation to look like some banana republic running a tax haven, all the international experts say that's a fact, so do New Zealand lawyers and accountants who have got some integrity, say that.

"More importantly, the Prime Minister has allowed first of all this to happen, and then he's allowed also for international corporates operating in New Zealand to, in some cases, to pay under 1 percent taxation."

Labour finance spokesperson Grant Robertson said New Zealanders were rightly concerned about the country's reputation.

"This is about our reputation internationally as a country that has been largely free of corruption.

"We're now being associated with the mega-rich around the world trying to hide their wealth and not pay their fair share of tax, and that goes against all the things that New Zealanders believe in."

The UMR poll surveyed 750 people between 14 and 18 April, and had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

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