NEW ZEALAND has been urged to tighten its company registration process by one of the authors of a major international study into the use of anonymous shell companies by terrorist and corrupt government officials.
Global Shell Games: Experiments in Transitional Relations, Crime and Terrorism by Jasson Sharman, Michael Findley and Daniel Nelson, [to be] published later this month in the United States, launched a series of stings to determine whether international regulations were met ensuring beneficial owners of shell companies were recorded.
The study made 7400 inquiries of 3700 incorporation agents in 181 countries – including New Zealand – to determine if Financial Action Task Force recommendations were followed.
The results found patchy adherence to regulations. The case of SP Trading, a New Zealand shell company that leased a plane used to run guns from North Korea to Iran via Bangkok in 2010, opens the book and receives considerable scrutiny.
SP Trading was formed by incorporation firm the GT Group, which had enlisted Burger King cook Lu Zhang as a nominee director. Zhang was paid $15 for each directorship, and knew nothing of who was using her company to breach United Nations arms sanctions.
Sharman, a professor at Griffith University in Australia, said the SP Trading case was “lurid” and the GT Group’s shell companies had been involved in other cases of alleged government corruption.
Following international outcry and an ultimately futile investigation into the SP Trading case, the GT Group left New Zealand, rebranded and was last reported to be operating in Malaysia.
Sharman agreed New Zealand’s present regulations, allowing offshore directors of locally registered companies , effectively puts information about beneficial owners out of reach of domestic authorities. [Read more...]