Geoff Cone is an international trust and tax attorney, with his career as a Tax and Trust advisor spanning over 18 years. Cone is known as a specialist for wealth planning, with an emphasis on Italy, Latin America and Spain. In his early career, Geoff Cone graduated with LLB honours and postgraduate diploma in trust and tax law’s from the University of Otago, New Zealand. He commenced his practice in 1980 in Auckland, New Zealand where he was then moved to Christchurch where he partnered with the Chairman of Partners for a leading law firm. His firm, known as Cone Marshall Limited, is the only law firm of it’s kind in New Zealand, specializing exclusively within international tax and trust planning, this providing trustee and trust management services within affiliated companies.
When looking at it for the first time, it may appear that the recent media coverage over New Zealand’s foreign trusts that have made it sound like a thrilling adventure of wealthy people, exotic lands and complex financial deals. However, just like with most things that have to do with taxes, it is not quite this simple. The biggest issue is that New Zealand isn’t a tax haven, in fact the OECD has maintained a list of tax havens around the world, and New Zealand is not now, has never been, and most likely will never be on this list. Some of the key characteristics for tax havens is that they impose no taxes or just nominal taxes, that the procedures and laws inhibit exchange of information within other governments, and there’s a lack of transparency. New Zealand does not qualify for any of these grounds, and there is no highly secretive private banking industry that is housed within New Zealand. What is considered to be the gold standard of transparency is the 2002 OECD Model Agreement for the Exchange of Information on Tax Matters, this information supports the enforcement of domestic tax laws and the international exchange of information that is to be administered. New Zealand is one of the first countries that has been placed on the OECD’s white list after having substantially implemented the internationally agreed tax standard. One of the ways that New Zealand has demonstrated leadership through tax transparency is how they have handled foreign trusts and the requirements that have been placed on the trustees, all of which have assisted with other governments that have requested relevant information. In 2006, it began to be required that the New Zealand resident trustee would submit a Foreign Trust Disclosure form, which would keep financial, as well as other records for tax purposes in New Zealand. These records include the details of distributions and settlements, the trust deed, money that has been spent and received by the trustee, and details for the trust’s liabilities and assets. All records are required to be kept by New Zealand and must be recorded in English, failure to follow this requirements can attract heavy penalties. New Zealand has had 39 double tax agreements, and have had more than 20 tax information exchange agreements with other countries. This is a limited form of double tax agreement and are concerned only with the assisting for prevention of tax evasion and avoidance. New Zealand has now signed up for a multilateral Convention for Mutual Administrative Assistance for Tax Matters. These are just a few of the ways that New Zealand is not a tax haven.