You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Key grabs the Panama Papers initiative

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 12/05/2016 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

After being slagged off for weeks, John Key has at last been able to get on the front foot over the Panama Papers says NZ Newswire's political writer Peter Wilson.

When Speaker David Carter gave John Key his marching orders on Wednesday the prime minister walked cheerfully from the debating chamber.

It didn't worry him at all, because for the first time since the Panama Papers sensation broke he was on the front foot.

For weeks Key had been slagged off by opposition MPs, accused of helping hide the identities of the mega-rich who had found a refuge for their wealth in foreign trusts set up in New Zealand.

They could be frauds and money-launderers, he was told, and he was on their side.

Organised crime could be using the trusts to conceal their ill-gotten gains, and he wasn't doing anything about it.

The Panama Papers were an opposition dream come true, because no one knew what was in them.

Key was having a hard time defending himself.

Saying the trusts were legal and most of them were unlikely to have anything to do with international gangsters did no good at all.

He was shouted down, vilified, told he was a party to a grubby business that was dragging New Zealand's name through the mud.

All that changed on Tuesday when a Panama Papers database went online.

It didn't have everything in it, but it had a lot and IRD was onto it.

So was Key.

"I took a moment to look at the database and guess who is a beneficiary of one of the trusts - Greenpeace International," he said.

"And guess who else is mentioned - Amnesty International."

Key told parliament that of the 500,000 times the Panama Papers showed law firm Mossack Fonseca was linked to either a company or a trust, less than 200 of those trusts were registered in New Zealand.

"And, by the way, Inland Revenue has cross-referenced them and all of them are disclosed to ensure that they pay their fair share of tax."

The point Key says he was trying to make by mentioning Greenpeace and Amnesty - a point he didn't make very well at the time - was that perfectly legitimate organisations were named in the Panama Papers and that didn't mean they had done anything wrong.

Labour and the Greens had to resort to alternative tactics.

Charities like Greenpeace International, Amnesty International and the Red cross - also mentioned by Key - were the victims of scams, they said.

Dishonest organisations operating foreign trusts used their names as a front in an attempt to disguise the real beneficiaries.

Greenpeace International said Key should apologise, and opposition parties eagerly took up the call.

Key refused, telling parliament what he had said was factually correct.

"I have not misrepresented Greenpeace. It is in the database as a beneficiary of the Exodus Trust, I do not like the fact that it is there, but it is."

Then he turned on Green Party co-leader James Shaw.

"I think the member should do this. I think he should get on his feet and he should say`John, on Saturday night...'."

He didn't get any further because that was when Carter told him to sit down, which Key didn't hear because he was shouting at Shaw, and was ordered out.

What he was going to say was that Shaw should apologise for claims he had made which weren't correct.

Key won that round, but the fight will go on if there are any damaging secrets lurking in undisclosed Panama Papers. There are, after all, more than 11 million of them.

In the beginning, the government was slow to react. It didn't acknowledge a need to change the foreign trust laws, it claimed they were already transparent and there wasn't really a problem to address.

There clearly is, and Key was on the wrong side of the argument.

Now he is indicating that whatever the John Shewan review recommends, or the OECD wants, will be done.

And Judith Collins, in London attending an anti-corruption meeting, says the government will consider setting up a public register of company and trust ownership.

Some of the countries represented at the meeting including Britain, France, the Netherlands, Nigeria and Afghanistan, have pledged to do that.

Others, like New Zealand and Australia, have said they'll take initial steps.

Collins is cautious.

She says it means a big change and it will need a lot of work, but the government will consider it.

There's a long way to go for all the countries involved if they're going to achieve an objective set out by British prime minister David Cameron.

"What we're talking about is stopping the corrupt hiding their loot from authorities - when people steal money from your country and hide it in mine, we can expose them and return it to you."

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon