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PM's lawyer lobbied MP on foreign trusts

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 28/04/2016

The Prime Minister's personal lawyer name-dropped his client when lobbying a government minister against a crack-down on the foreign trust industry.

More than 11,000 foreign trusts have been set up in New Zealand and opposition parties are accusing the government of allowing the country to be used as a tax haven.

An email has been released by the Green Party from Ken Whitney, John Key's lawyer and head of trust specialist Antipodes, to then-Minister for Revenue Todd McClay in December 2014.

In it, Mr Whitney writes that a group of professionals in the foreign trust industry were concerned at what appeared to be a sudden change of view by Inland Revenue in respect of its previous support for the industry.

"I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised me the government has no current plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime applying in New Zealand," he wrote.

He requested a meeting with the minister, which was agreed to.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the lobbying appeared to have successfully stopped the IRD from reforming the foreign trust regulations in 2015.

"This shows how powerful vested interests can get the ear of the government who will then change its plans to suit them," he said.

Within a day of Mr Whitney's email to Minister McClay, the minister had emailed the IRD, warning he did not want it to close the foreign trusts industry, Mr Shaw said.

"Ordinary people, those who care about child poverty or about the environment and want the government to change its policies, do not get this kind of access or this kind of immediate response to their concerns."

Mr Key said there was nothing unusual about Mr Whitney raising the issue with him and confirmed he had told him to talk to Minister McClay, the New Zealand Herald reported.

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