A joint investigation by TVNZ, RNZ and journalist Nicky Hager has revealed the involvement of Auckland accountant and lawyer Roger Thompson in the Panama Papers scandal.
Thompson’s accountancy firm, Bentley’s is an ordinary office on Queen Street, “where nobody would look and where it's only inside the computer files and the filing cabinet that you would realise that that is the centre of all kinds of tax haven activity in our country”, Hager said.
But the investigation, undertaken in conjunction with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, found that the firm is a New Zealand agent for Mossack Fonseca.
According to a report by TVNZ, the firm creates trusts for wealthy foreigners for around $4000, using NZ’s limited disclosure rules to stay anonymous. New Zealand law does not require foreign trusts pay tax.
Thompson, who briefly worked at Inland Revenue in the 80s, then charges $3000 a year to send a one-page form to the department. Hager claimed that Inland Revenue never knows who is behind the trusts: “they never get to see the accounts. They never get to see what business they're doing”.
Clients deliberately avoid linking their trusts with countries where New Zealand has deals to share tax information, TVNZ reported.
“While Bentleys has a dominant role in the industry, similar deals and structures are being constructed by accountants and lawyers throughout the country,” the investigation noted.
Thompson was listed in more than 4500 of the leaked Panama Papers documents, Bentleys was listed more than 3500 times.
In an interview with RNZ, Thompson denied the trusts and companies were set up to avoid taxes.
“I don't see NZ is a tax haven. I would describe it as a high quality jurisdiction for trusts with a benign tax system in certain circumstances,” Thompson said.
“I think the assumption that all NZ foreign trusts are being used for illegitimate purposes is unfounded and based largely on ignorance.”
Prime Minister John Key has continued to deny New Zealand was used as a tax haven, even after the last revelations, but did say an independent review would look at the disclosure rules, Stuff reported.
“New Zealand has disclosure rules, what seems to be challenged here is are New Zealand's disclosure rules tight enough, strong enough, broad enough?” he said.
“We have over a hundred information sharing agreements or double tax agreements with over a hundred companies. We have complied with every request that's ever been made of New Zealand.”