When looking for the first time at the recent media coverage involving the New Zealand foreign trust, it is made to sound like one of those sexy airport thrillers that involves wealthy people, exotic lands and financial deals that are complex. However, just like most things that have to do with taxes, it’s a bit more mundane. First the elephant in the room seems to be that New Zealand isn’t a tax haven. The OECD has maintained a list of the tax havens and New Zealand was not on this list, nor has it ever been, and it is unlikely that it will be featured anytime in the future. Key characteristics for tax havens is they do not impose or have only nominal taxes, and they have a lack of transparency, and that procedures or laws inhibit exchange of information in other governments. New Zealand does not qualify on any of these grounds, and does not house a highly secretive private banking industry. One of the ways that New Zealand has demonstrated their leadership in tax transparency is in the way that it handles foreign trusts and the requirements that have been placed by the trustees. New rules in the area were introduced in 2006 by Michael Cullen following an extensive consultation. Under these new rules, it was required that the New Zealand resident trustee to submit a foreign trust disclosure form and must keep financial as well as other records for New Zealand tax purposes. These forms included details of settlements and distributions, the trust deed and money that the trustee had received or spent. And if the trust carries a business that it required that the trustee keep information in concerns to the accounting system and the chars and codes of account. For most countries, that person that is settling the trust must report the settlement of it’s funds to their individual central banks, revenue authorities and other authorities. When coupled with information settlers must be reported by their own countries, and give revenue authorities enough information that has requested details for a particular reaction. New Zealand has had 39 double tax agreements. These have been designed for reducing tax impediments to the cross-border trade and assist and invest in prevention of tax evasion and tax avoidance. New Zealand also has over 20 tax information exchange agreements and are only concerned with assisting with the prevention of tax evasion and avoidance. The majority of the foreign trusts are used in asset succession and protection planning in New Zealand, and not for tax planning.
In his early life, Geoffrey Cone graduated with a post graduate diploma in trust and tax law and LLB honors from the University of Otago, New Zealand. He commenced his practice in 1980 out of Auckland, New Zealand and then moved to Christchurch where he became a partner and the chairman for the partners for a leading law firm. While in this position he practiced with the commercial litigation, as well as working with trust and tax advisory and had appeared in the courts at all levels on the leading counsel, this included the Privy Council. His firm Cone Marshall Limited, is the only law firm in New Zealand that specializes exclusively in international tax and trust planning.