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Panama Papers: Brazil figure compared with treacherous House of Cards character

Disgraced in Brazil and accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes, Eduardo Cunha is accused of links to the Petrobras oil and embezzlement scandal.

A joint ONE News investigation has pieced together a link between a disgraced former politician and a Kiwi law firm. Source: 1 NEWS

Now the Panama Papers have revealed his use of a New Zealand company to hide his wealth in a Swiss bank account.

His ruthless style and attempts to have his country's president Dilma Rousseff removed from office have led to comparisons with House of Cards' fictional king of treachery: Frank Underwood.

But it was Cunha who was stripped of his job as lower Congress Speaker earlier this month, over the corruption charges.

Police have raided his home and prosecutors want him jailed for 184 years.

He says he's innocent and the victim of a conspiracy.

So how was the money hidden?

Through controversial law firm Mossack Fonseca, a Panama company set up a New Zealand company - PVCI New Zealand Trust Limited - in 2008.

Two months later the New Zealand company set up Netherton, a shell company based in Singapore.

Netherton opened an account with Swiss bank Julius Baer. It is one of five Swiss accounts linked to Cunha, which have now been frozen.

The account was opened by Uruguayan lawyer Luis Maria Pineyrua Pittaluga, named as a director of PVCI. Pittaluga has previously been named by investigators for helping a Petrobras official open a secret Swiss bank account. 

Confused? Well, these complex layers are typical of offshore corporate structures.

Transparency International says New Zealand's loose tax disclosure rules are being taken advantage of by wealthy world leaders. 

Chair Sue Sniveley said: "New Zealand has been identified as one of about 20 which have such loose regulations in this area. That open us up for this kind of activity."

PVCI was originally registered to Auckland offshore services firm Asiaciti - but it moved to Cone Marshall to 2014. PVCI has been largely dormant.

Lawyer Geoffrey Cone, who became a PVCI director in November last year, says his firm Cone Marshall acted to wind up the company in January. 

Companies House gave notice that the company was being removed in May, because it broke rules requiring a director resident in Australia or New Zealand.

Cone divides his time between Auckland and Uruguay. He wouldn't give us an interview but in an email said: 'Fair cop on Cunha. We terminated the case as soon as we looked into the file, and wound up the trust [company].'

Cone Marshall was also involved in the complex web of structures set up by the family of exiled Kzakh leader Akehan Kazhegeldin to keep their $15m London mansion secret. 

New Zealand does not have a tax treaty or information sharing agreement with Brazil. The Brazilian embassy didn't respond to questions about whether they asked for New Zealand's help with the corruption allegations.

The foreign trust rules are now under review, with a report due next month.

But Transparency International says there is a quick fix.  

"We are not saying all this stuff has to be published on a website in full blazing glory. We are saying there needs to be a clear register of interests," Ms Sniveley said.