Lisa Owen: Before we crack into health, breaking news overnight regarding the Panama Papers. The leaker’s spoken for the first time and in what he or she is calling a manifesto names John Key. He is the only world leader named. The leaker says Mossack Fonseca has been Niue as a tax haven and says, ‘John Key of New Zealand has been curiously quiet about his country’s role in enabling the financial fraud mecca that is the Cook Islands. We’ve asked John Key, Murray McCully, Michael Woodhouse and Todd McClay for comment. Nothing as yet. But the New Zealander at the helm for the Center for Public Integrity, the organisation coordinating the reporting of the Panama Papers, is Peter Bale, and he joins me via Skype.
RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Peter Bale and Winston Peters
Peter Bale: Hi, Lisa.
Hi, Peter. The New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, is the only world leader who is named in this Panama leaker’s manifesto. How curious is that?
Well, it struck me like a bolt from the blue this morning when I looked at it. I knew this was coming. I knew the manifesto was coming, and I had no idea that it mentioned John Key in it, but I was talking to New Zealand friends last night and very struck by Mr Key’s comments in a speech about cybersecurity that he related this to the Panama Papers.
So you can imagine my surprise and interest when I saw that he was featured in the manifesto this morning.
A couple of things there. Why do you think he’s named?
Well, so far as I know, and I haven’t lived in New Zealand for a very long time, but so far as I know, New Zealand is considered a bit of a soft touch in this area. New Zealand trust law has been very open to abuse and use by people setting up both legal and presumably illegal shell companies, and I think we know from a very long time ago that the Cook Islands was problematic in this area. I think we all remember the Winebox affair. I think even I still lived in New Zealand at that time. And then many other places in the Pacific have been used in a sense over time, and the leaker identifies Niue in here and really says that Mossack Fonseca was involved in the, really, writing legislation to aid and abet what it was trying to do in terms of shell companies around the world.
We do need to be careful here, don’t we, because this criticism is not related to New Zealand’s domestic situation directly, so it is about the islands and operations in the islands and we have no control over tax policy in the Cook Islands?
I don’t know. I mean, I think this is what is interesting to me, and I think it will be interesting to see what Mr Key and New Zealand ministers say about these comments, and it is interesting to me this relationship to the Cook Islands that’s referred to in here. I’m not an expert any more in New Zealand. I haven’t covered it for many years, so please forgive in not knowing as much as I should about that, but New Zealand does have a big influence in several Pacific countries and, of course, it’s been noticeable to me watching the New Zealand media that Mr Key has come into focus because of the actions of his lawyer.
What can we expect next week with the papers going up online for all to see?
Yeah, let me be very clear about that. It’s not the papers themselves. This is not the documents involved. There are 11 and a half million documents that are sitting behind this leak and that we’ve received from Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German newspaper, which in turn received them from this person that we are calling and this person is calling themselves John Doe. What we’re producing on Monday is an extraordinary map or data interactive map, if you like, or interactive database of all the companies we’ve been able to identify from these documents and all of the offices associated with those, which are in many cases individuals. So by going on to our website on Monday, probably Monday evening, Tuesday morning New Zealand time, you’ll be able to put in somebody’s name or a location or a country and find the web of offshore companies, offshore listings that spread out from that individual or from the company and the enabling legal firms and the enabling people who’ve allowed that to happen or are involved in it. And, of course, as we’ve said all along, it is not illegal in many jurisdictions to have an offshore company, so we’re not suggesting that all of this is illegal or all of this is underhand, but these are documents which are now publicly available. We’re making publicly available the information contained in them, which David Cameron, President Obama and others have called to be done, and we’re doing that.
All right. Well, people will be poised over their computers. Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Peter Bale. Appreciate your time.
And, of course, one politician who knows a bit about tax in the Cook Islands is New Zealand First’s Winston Peters. He’s on the phone. Good morning, Mr Peters. Why do you think that the leaker is referring to the Prime Minister being quiet about the Cooks?
Winston Peters: Well, because if you look at the history of things, it was the Cook Islands first of all that was running itself in this way, and then in the heat of the Cook Islands inquiry, the Winebox Inquiry, they set up in Niue, just down the road, so to speak, across the Pacific and, of course, eventually in Samoa. So the government had to know if it was taking advice and given the Winebox Inquiry revelations that this was happening. And if you come from Merrill Lynch and pose as a financial whiz kid, you would surely be expected to know more than most.
All right. Well, the world is watching, and this person, this leaker, has chosen to name only one leader. What do you read into that?
I read that there’s much more to come.
And what are you expecting?
Well, I said some time ago that these papers would be very very serious revelations— would bring very very serious revelations because 11 and a half million documents and New Zealand mentioned 60 times and us being positioned here in the South Pacific giving aid to countries who were at the same time running tax haven utilities or using all sorts of fancy phrases for cheating and fraud and money laundering, I think that the mention of Mr Key relates to where they’re going to go in one part of the world on this matter.
All right, thanks for joining us this morning, Winston Peters, New Zealand First leader. Appreciate your time.
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