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Secrecy is the key to trusts: Peters

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 9/05/2016

Mr Peters said if he wanted to find out about a trustee, he would have to know who he was looking for. © Getty Images Mr Peters said if he wanted to find out about a trustee, he would have to know who he was looking for. The foreign trust industry would quit New Zealand if full transparency was enforced, NZ First leader Winston Peters says.

The government is facing fresh allegations that New Zealand is a tax haven now that the Panama Papers have been released to selected media organisations.

Prime Minister John Key rejects those claims, saying they're "utterly incorrect", and insists New Zealand has a robust and transparent regime under which foreign tax authorities can request, and be given, information about trusts set up in New Zealand.

But Mr Peters says it's not transparent.

"There are legitimate trusts, where the beneficiary is named," he said on RNZ.

"The secret about these foreign trusts is the beneficiary is never named.

Mr Peters said if he wanted to find out about a trustee, he would have to know who he was looking for.

And if he had a name, he still wouldn't know the name of the trust that person was using.

"If there was full disclosure, the foreign trust regime would be out of this country tomorrow," he said.

"They came here for the one treasure we have - utter secrecy."

The documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca, the Panama-based law firm that specialises in setting up foreign trusts, mention New Zealand 61,000 times.

Mr Key on Monday said New Zealand continued to have a strong reputation for transparency.

"We've seen some people, including opposition parties, claim that New Zealand is a tax haven," he said at his post-cabinet press conference on Monday.

"That is utterly incorrect - the OECD has four criteria for assessing whether a country has harmful tax practices, including making them a tax haven, and New Zealand doesn't meet any of them."

He said the government planned to introduce legislation to enable the automatic exchange of financial information with up to 100 other countries, work which started before the Panama Papers first became known.

The trusts are legal but can be used to hide wealth from tax authorities or launder money.

There are more than 11,000 in New Zealand.

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