Jul 28 2011

What the hell is going on at 9/22 Curran Street, New Zealand?

Posted by: Nick Shaxson in: Thoughts

From the Tax Justice blog, a post that I just wrote:

The economic blog Naked Capitalism has a fascinating post looking at some breathtakingly murky company business, in an investigation (via Panama) of New Zealand. We have known about New Zealand’s role as a secrecy jurisdiction for some time, but have not yet researched it in any detail. That time will be coming soon enough.

Before reading that post, take a look at this company registered at 9/22 Curran Street (pictured): Trillion Private Wealth Management Ltd. What does it offer? Well, for one thing, “protecting” your assets. That is, all too frequently, code for “helping you engage in criminal tax evasion” or “protecting you from the forces of law and order.” Here is some of the spiel:

That kind of promise should set alarm bells ringing all over the place. Crime-fighters of the world, take note. It seems to be running the same business model as, let’s say, that house in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in this Reuters story. Or that seedy building in 1209 North Orange Street, Wilmington, Delaware, explored in some detail in Treasure Islands.

Now read the Naked Capitalism story. It’s quite involved, and involves a lot of digging, but it paints a very ugly picture indeed. Plenty of stuff like this:

So we have a profoundly dodgy company, NEW ZEALAND INTERNATIONAL SAVINGS & LOAN LIMITED and a profoundly dodgy made-up individual, Rod Alvar, and what look like offences under the 1993 Companies Act. Surely a company that ragged couldn’t possibly make it onto the register of Financial Service Providers, could it?

There’s also one called New Zealand International Savings & Loan Limited. As Naked Capitalism notes:

NZISL offers banking services as a registered Financial Service Provider in New Zealand and not as a registered bank under the supervision of the Reserve Bank in New Zealand. New Zealand International Savings & Loan is regulated by the Ministry of Economy and Finance of New Zealand which is responsible for supervising Financial Service Providers (FSP).

Well, there is no such thing as the “Ministry of Economy and Finance of New Zealand. FSPs are regulated by the NZ Ministry of Economic Development (via the Companies Office). They’re the folk who registered NZISL as an FSP.

In short, we appear to have the magnificent spectacle of a non-existent financial institution staffed by non-existent people announcing to the world that the Ministry of Economic Development has nothing to do with regulation, and that a fantasy Ministry of their own devising does it instead.”

There is a lot more in this story (not just about this particular house,) including an interesting Panama snippet suggesting how your money isn’t nearly as safe as you think, if you put it offshore:

The lawyers who set these things up promise the moon when they are taking your money, but when the investigators from the Public Ministry come knocking they simply say “we didn’t know” and roll over like ducks on a pond. It’s actually a pretty good gig for the lawyers.

Which is rather reminiscent of another Antipodean story we did not so long ago, highlighting the untrustworthiness of many offshore arrangements.

Naked Capitalism continues:

Helping to apply a veneer of respectability to dodgy companies, by not monitoring who is registering as an FSP, can only facilitate fraud. Perhaps I am an old fart, but I don’t think the purpose of the New Zealand Ministry of Economic Development’s imprimatur is to facilitate fraud. Of course if the Ministry are actually aiming at Panama’s “dodgy company” franchise, they should carry on just as they are.”

What is New Zealand doing, tolerating this?

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