December 10, 2019

Approval to buy ‘sensitive’ NZ land, linked to Panama law firm, under review

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1460614826246By VERNON SMALL From Suff.co.

Officials are reviewing an approval to buy sensitive New Zealand land linked to notorious Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The IRD has requested information from the Overseas Investment Office () regarding the application, approved in 2014, Land Information Minister Louise Upston has confirmed.

The law firm has been at the centre of an international storm after the leak of 11.5m documents revealed its role in helping the rich and powerful hide their assets and avoid tax.

A spokesman for Upston said she had asked the OIO to review the approval to ensure everything was in order.

1460614826246-1The OIO was looking at whether it could release more information about the application, subject to privacy and commercial considerations.

The OIO was also going through its records to see if any other applications were linked to Mossack Fonseca.

If it found any Upston expected it to take similar action to the land approval, the spokesman said.

Speaking in Parliament last week she said “good character” was one of the criteria the OIO took into account.

“It is an ongoing condition of the consent. So if at a later point there is ever an issue associated with someone who has been given approval, then the Overseas Investment Office can and does take action with that breach.”

Foreign buyers require OIO approval to buy sensitive land or significant business assets and fishing quota.

Finance Minister Bill English said the Government could not direct the OIO in its investigations. “If it forms a view that there are questions of good character involved, then I would expect that it would investigate those.”

But Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson said ministers were being remarkably complacent about the application.

“Mossack Fonseca is now an international byword for tax evasion and New Zealand’s reputation has been seriously damaged by being mentioned 60,000 times in the . That Mossack Fonseca is involved in an application to buy sensitive New Zealand land will be a concern to every and, if successful, could further undermine our reputation.”

The fact Prime Minister John Key did not know which country the bid came from showed he did not understand the importance of the issue

“He and the Land Information Minister must show urgency and, at the very least, demand regular Cabinet briefings on the status of this application. We can’t risk a further erosion of our reputation.”

Robertson said there were also serious questions to answer over data that showed more than $300m of foreign investment came into New Zealand from the Cayman Islands over the last four years. That was more than the investment from Russia, India, Italy, Spain and Sweden combined, Robertson said.

“That’s an astonishing amount for one territory with less than 60,000 people.”

He said foreign investment from the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands together, both known as tax havens, was more than $4 billion. That was almost seven times more than China, Germany, and France combined.

He said the OIO should take a close look at future investments to ensure New Zealand land and business were not being used as a vehicle for the global mega-rich to secretly park their money.

“This is yet more reason why we need a full and independent public inquiry into the nature of foreign trusts and tax avoidance in this country,” he said.

But English said he was not particularly concerned about the Cayman Island numbers.

It was “always a bit tricky trying to decide where investment actually comes from. People can be of one nationality, with a head office located in another country. The critical thing is that every one of those investments had to pass the tests agreed by this Parliament and laid out in the Overseas Investment Act.”

IMAGES:
Land Information Minister Louise Upston has asked officials to review land sale linked to Panama Papers law firm.
Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson says ministers “complacent” over land sale linked to Panama law firm
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

For more on this story go to: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/78944456/approval-to-buy-sensitive-nz-land-linked-to-panama-law-firm-under-review

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