New Zealand and the so called “Panama Papers”

So, a Panamanian law firm has released a huge wad of files pointing to a massive tax haven scandal centred on Malta, and some of those files are implicating New Zealand. This comes just days after concerns arose about shell companies being the shop front for money laundering and other dirty business. And the Opposition parties have their ears pricked.

As yet, though perhaps because none – with the exception of Green Member of Parliament Mojo Mathers – have chosen to talk about their arrangements, the financial state of New Zealand Members of Parliament appear to be clear. That said, the register for Members of Parliaments pecuniary interests show nearly two thirds of M.P.’s having a beneficial interest in a trust or serving as a trustee. This is not necessarily a bad thing as some of them knowing the nature of their chosen profession are simply taking steps to protect legally acquired assets.

This may also have to do with the high level of transparency expected by New Zealanders in terms of how Members of Parliament conduct themselves. It  is also well known that numerous M.P.’s own multiple properties and/or business interests. Parliamentary perks often come under scutiny when details of alleged abuses come to light, and changes to them have been made as a result.

However, what is concerning here is the fact that New Zealand looks like it might be party to a truly global scandal that includes some very powerful names, such as President of Russia Vladimir Putin. In line with that Members of Parliament have been calling on the Government to adopt tighter laws around New Zealands trusts as the scandal threatening to bring down the Maltese Government deepens.

Prime Minister John Key is denying that New Zealand has been implicated. He points to the existing laws having not changed since 1988 and an O.E.C.D. review of New Zealand giving the country a clean bill of health – in his words – in 2013. His refusal to accept that tax haven laws here need another look at mean therefore it is not surprising that Opposition Members of Parliament are up in arms. His refusal though may affect how the world views New Zealand as a nation – when Mr Key became Prime Minister, New Zealand had an exceptionally good and (in my opinion)well deserved ranking of the second most transparent country in the world, according to Transparency International. Only Denmark was better. Although we still rank in the top 5 – with Denmark, and its Scandanavian neighbours being the only more honest nations I see the potential to slip out of the top 10.

It will be very interesting to see what the next few days bring. Will it topple the Maltese Government? Will there be an enormously damaging revelation about New Zealand that Prime Minister John Key cannot ignore? What else can we learn about New Zealand’s role – alleged or otherwise – in this?

Stay tuned.

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