Panama Papers: NZ law firms doing business with Mossack Fonseca while lobbying Govt not to change foreign trust laws

John Key's legal adviser didn't want to face questions about his links to Mossack Fonseca when we approached him, but remember when it hit the news that Ken Whitney worked at a firm specialising in foreign trusts?

A special investigation has found new links between the PM's legal adviser and the Panama law firm. Source: 1 NEWS

Despite telling the Prime Minister he'd never done business with Mossack Fonseca, Mr Whitney does have links to the controversial Panamanian law firm through two companies registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Between 2012 and 2014 he was a director of the New Zealand office of the Swiss-based Rothschild Trust.

That company owned Capewood Investments and Exchange Securities Ltd via its subsidiary Arrow Master-Holdings.

Mossack Fonseca's branch in the British Virgin Islands was the agent for both companies.

"I know that he is of the highest ethical level and he is of the highest oversight, he happens to be brilliant," Mr Key said on April 3rd.

Today, he defended Mr Whitney when questioned by reporters.

The PM says he has no need to contact his lawyer over the latest story on the Panama Papers. Source: 1 NEWS

The Panama Papers also reveal New Zealand law firms were doing significant business with Mossack Fonseca, all while lobbying the Government not to change foreign trust laws.

Mossack Fonseca is playing up New Zealand's good reputation particularly to rich clients in Central and South America. Source: 1 NEWS

Lawyers from Cone Marshall, Asiaciti, John W. Hart and Anchor Trustees International acted as directors and liquidators for dozens of trusts and companies.

Labour leader Andrew Little says New Zealand has "become a target".

"We are seen in other parts of the world as a place you can plant your wealth and not have to pay tax on any income you earn of it," he said.

The Labour leader fires up as more revelations emerge from our Panama Papers investigation. Source: Breakfast

Mossack Fonseca maintains that these companies and trusts are routinely used for legal purposes.

A group of lawyers involved in the foreign trust industry met with Revenue Minister Todd McClay in 2015.

There were concerns that Inland Revenue were moving to shut down the foreign trust industry - said to be worth as much as $50 million a year.

"They had special access in the sense of that they both were able to have a detailed conversation with officials and they seem to have also changed the pattern of history on the basis of that discussion," Suzanne Snively, from Transparency International says.

But the Government says reviewing foreign trust laws was not a priority at the time, and the group have special influence.

None of those four firms responded to our questions, but Robin Oliver was another of the lobbyists - who has no links to the Panama company.

"What was proposed, and what the industry still supports, is a register of the trustees and a licensing of trustees," Mr Oliver said.

Recommendations from a foreign trust review are due in June.

Reporting team: Andrea Vance, Gyles Beckford, Jane Patterson, Jessica Mutch, Lee Taylor, Nicky Hager and Patrick O’Meara

The investigation into the Panama Papers New Zealand is a journalistic collaboration by reporters from ONE News, RNZ News and investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

It has been carried out with the assistance of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the German newspaper Süddeutshe Zeitung.