NZ’s role in tax avoidance ‘shameful’, says academic

Dr Deborah Russell says it would be comparatively easy for New Zealand tax authorities to close the loopholes in New Zealand’s trust law.

A Massey University taxation specialist says the loopholes in New Zealand’s trust law, highlighted by the so-called Panama Papers, makes this country “complicit in schemes to avoid tax”.

Dr Deborah Russell, from Massey’s School of Accountancy, says the massive document leak from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca sheds light on New Zealand’s role as an international tax haven.

“It’s shameful for New Zealand to be caught up in international tax avoidance,” Dr Russell says. “The loophole in our laws that allows New Zealand foreign trusts to escape taxation has been known about for years, but nothing has been done to shut it down. This makes us complicit in schemes to avoid tax.”

Dr Russell says that while there is nothing illegal about minimising tax, there can be ethical implications. 

“Taxation is the price of civilisation, and very wealthy people and companies who use extreme measures to minimise their tax are free riding on ordinary taxpayers.”


Dr Deborah Russell

It's not a hard loophole to fix

It would be comparatively easy to shut the loophole down, Dr Russell believes. 

“The loophole relies on New Zealand tax authorities not collecting and sharing basic information about foreign trusts. Trustees of New Zealand foreign trusts should be required to  disclose the identities of the people putting property into the trusts, and benefitting from the trusts, and Inland Revenue should be authorised to share this information with other countries’ tax authorities. 

“This would enable other countries to pursue people who are sheltering property and income in New Zealand foreign trusts.”

The only people in New Zealand who benefit from the foreign trusts loopholes are the tax consultants and trustee companies collecting fees from providing trustee services, Dr Russell says. 

“Shutting down the loophole might reduce these fees, but it would also restore New Zealand’s reputation for being corruption free.”

 Dr Deborah Russell is a lecturer in taxation at the Massey Business School and a former Labour Party candidate.

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