Anti-Money Laundering and the press in New Zealand

There is a strange advertisement that sometimes appears in the community newspapers here, at least some near Wellington. Over an attractive photo of some wilderness there is a catchphrase in largish lettering, “An Oasis For Native Species”; and in smaller type beneath this is “Not for financing terrorism.” This advertisement is for a government campaign against money laundering, known as Keep Our Money Clean. On this website with high production values there are other nice photos with slogans over the top of them, such as: “An Unspoilt Wilderness For Us, Not for Money Launderers.”

The website is meant to announce the phasing in of the AML/CFT legislation, and increasing the scope to more organisations, including real estate agents on 1st January 2019. The intention of the text seems to be to warn people of the extra information now required of them, and that doesn’t explain why this advertisement is in the giveaway local press, perhaps the government can’t afford to advertise in the mainstream press. But there is even more in the way of information that the owners of companies will be required to provide the Companies Office soon. The government want to know who the beneficial owners are, the real owners, and have it added to the public database.

There has been a process of submissions on the beneficial ownership proposal for Parliament. And there has even been a press article on some of the high profile submissions, under the label ‘money laundering’, and in the print version (6/11/18) of the Dominion Post, titled ‘Venture capitalists fret over transparency plan’. Transparency International were in favour of the public register, as well as adding the ownership of the foreign trusts. Even the law firm Russell McVeagh supported the proposal, despite being involved in tax haven activity and tax evasion schemes in the 1980s. However, a previously unknown association of venture capitalists oppose transparency, as it would reduce the attractiveness of New Zealand for investment. The really interesting submission quoted is from Cone Marshall, described as a law and accounting firm in Auckland. They claimed that the proposal put wealthy investors at risk of physical or emotional harm, by which they seem to be referring to the chance of kidnapping.

These transparency proposals are made in conjunction with highlighting the role of residential addresses. Of course, many of the owners of companies seem to have multiple addresses in New Zealand, as well as overseas; Geoffrey Cone apparently has had many residences in South America, as well as around Auckland. There has also been a recent focus on the Chinese owners of New Zealand companies, who have local residences as well as addresses in China or Hong Kong. There are also many Europeans in Hong Kong. And there are examples of where the Companies Office have accepted misleading addresses related to these individuals.

One such expat is Johnathan Ian Banks, who became a director of an overseas Non-ASIC company called Southern Rock Insurance Co. Yes, if that name is familiar it is the insurance company associated with Arron Banks, the controversial donor of millions to the Brexit campaign. But back to his bother Johnathan for a moment. When he took over from his brother as director his address was in Moorslade Lane, Falfield, which looks right, but this was apparently in Wotton-under-Edge. The Google map shows that the latter is some distance from Falfield, though both are Gloucestershire. Jonathan later moved to the Lobster Bay Villas in Clearwater Bay, Gloucestershire, but this is actually in Hong Kong. And by this time it was irrelevant anyway, as the company had ceased business on 31st December 2013. But the notice of this was not placed until the 30th June 2016. There were other directorial changes during this interregnum to Southern Rock Insurance NZ, for which there was still a slew of directors: including Messrs Birrell, Clayden, Coetzee, Gillighan, Wigmore, Robinson; and Ms Trudy McGiffen of Gibraltar.

Southern Rock was apparently part of Arron Banks’ empire, for which there are so many questions, but one of them is not what he and his cronies were doing in the former colonies like New Zealand. The financial reports for Southern Rock on the public database indicate that it did not do very much business at all between 2006 and 2016 (or late 2013). And while Southern Rock appeared to be run from Gibraltar, Arron Andrew Fraser Banks also had a number of New Zealand companies registered between December 2005 and September 2013. Of the five listed there are three named after variations on ‘E Group’ and two titles beginning with ‘Group Direct’. These companies were apparently administered by a small firm of accountants in Palmerston North, a provincial city in the North Island, but are also linked to offices in Brisbane, Australia.

Perhaps more interesting is the short-lived company called Bunker Investments Ltd, that Banks had registered between April 2005 and July 2007. The other shareholder/directors of Bunker Investments included Bruce Phillip West, who appears to be based on the North Shore of Auckland, and John William Gannon. The latter is a well known crony of Banks, and both gave the same business address in Bristol, England to be the directors. But the same documentation provides different addresses for the shareholding: both Banks and Gannon ended up with 25 million shares in Bunker Investments, but gave addresses in Favona, Auckland. Favona is a suburb that most people have not heard of, including me. Banks apparently lived in Favona Road, in a rather modest house by the look of the Google image, and Gannon lived round the corner in Jury Place (probably in a more recent in-fill abode). Was the Arron Banks really slumming it in South Auckland in the mid 2000s, amidst some poor Polynesian people, and at such great risk of being kidnapped?

Postscript, 25/7/2020:

Amongst all the sex scandals and MP resignations that have appeared in the media in New Zealand, there was a curious story about Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore. Most media outlets mentioned it, since it involved Winston Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister, and leader of the New Zealand First Party. It was a follow up to a story in the Daily Telegraph that Banks and Wigmore, the self-styled bad boys of Brexit, would be helping the New Zealand First Party in the up-coming election campaign. Of course, Winston Peters at first denied this, but after much bluff and bluster, eventually confirmed that his British friends would be helping him. Peters doesn’t usually like foreigners helping political parties, but I suppose Brits from Bristol aren’t really foreigners. One New Zealand media person based in London, Lloyd Burr, even got an interview with Banks and Wigmore, at Banks’ Bristol mansion. They confirmed that they had a firm contract with the New Zealand First Party to conduct social media campaigns in New Zealand, and they would ensure NZ First would get at least 13% of the party vote. In the commentary for his piece, Burr indicated that Banks had got his millions from diamonds extracted in South African mines, but could not donate to the NZ First Party, of course. There was some mention of an insurance empire, but it is obviously a bit like the British Empire, not quite what it used to be. Meanwhile, Winston Peters continues to be embroiled in legal actions, and accusations of dirty tricks, even without Banks & Co.


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