Strange brew: the world of Cone Marshall

The law firm of Geoffrey Cone and Karen Marshall is central to the foreign trust industry in Auckland, New Zealand. They are the lynchpin in the NZ Trustee Companies Association, the group of four trust firms that successfully lobbied to end the review of trust law by the IRD. Cone and Marshall also have over 1000 company directorships on the New Zealand register. Not all of the companies are active, and some of their staff lawyers are assuming the role of Cone himself, now based in Uruguay. But the number of companies they register is still growing, and they also represent some larger international trust firms.

Let’s start with a specific firm: International Beverage Company Ltd. This company was only registered in February 2015, and with two shareholders based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They appear to be brothers, with a surname Tchoukreev; a variation on the surname does come up in a google search, linked to Dubai. But anyway, the Tchoukreevs relinquished their shareholding in August, and it was assumed by a company called Standguard Nominees. Just a quick digression on the role of Kazakhstan in the Panama Papers. There appear to be a large number associated with mining companies. Also, RNZ have reported on a former Kazakhstan leader with legal links to Cone Marshall, who owns an expensive London apartment through a trust run by his daughter. Of course, there is a bigger story about London real estate owned by former Kazaks, as exposed by Global Witness in 2014.

But back to Standguard Nominees, one of Cone Marshall’s front companies. It also owns a company called Abacus Fiduciary NZ Ltd, which includes directors living in Gibraltar. In fact, Abacus Financial Services is a significant trust firm based in Gibraltar, and its website indicates a link to New Zealand, if not to Kazakhstan. Standguard is in turn owned by the Trident Trust Company (NZ) Ltd, and the directors are Cone, Marshall, a staffer (Claire Cooke), and Markus Grossmann of Singapore. Now Trident currently owns 13 New Zealand companies, and four have recently been removed. Those four are more interesting, as they involved directors who were based in South America. One was Nancy del Consuelo Bastidas Parra, a Venezuelan, who was a director in Fox Investment Holdings Ltd before it was removed. Fox had owned a majority share in Mercury Solutions Group Ltd, with the minority shares being owned by companies with odd names based in Saint Kitts & Nevis.

So one of Trident’s companies, Vavecic Investments Ltd, was actually assumed from their friends at Anchor Trustees in Auckland, but was ultimately owned by the Credit Suisse Trust in Zurich. Now Cone Marshall have an outlet in Switzerland, and have close links with a number of bigger players based there.They have also assumed administration of the Julius Baer Trust Co (New Zealand) Ltd from Anchor Trustees, and the local companies that it owns. But their main Swiss connection is through the Rothschild Trust New Zealand Ltd, which is owned by the Rothschild Private Trust in Zurich, and includes a number of their managers as directors. Rothschild Trust NZ own a number of companies, including Arrow Master Holdings Ltd, which appears twice in the Panama Papers. And Arrow Master also owns a number of companies, with a mix of Swiss and French directors, including Richbourne Trading Ltd. The shareholders in Richbourne are actually based in Panama, with the Richbourne Foundation having assumed control in 2013 from Alpha Nominees Ltd, which was located in the British Virgin Islands.

Now back to Cone Marshall and its shell companies. Trident Trust International’s website includes a number of useful documents, including one on how the purchase of ‘look through’ companies have made it easier to get a tax advantage from New Zealand. Cone Marshall seems to have removed this information from its website. Trident Trust NZ is in fact owned by the New Zealand Escrow and Trust Co Ltd, which then in turn owns a large number of companies, some assumed from Rangitoto Nominees Ltd. At least it had a New Zealand sounding name. But Cone Marshall’s army of shell companies would be a bad joke if it didn’t involve what appear to be some dubious international connections beneath a charade of professional respectability.

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