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Irish seek missing millions in NZ

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  • New Zealand a critical link in the 'supply chain' for corruption

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    Irish private investigators have been in New Zealand chasing 455 million (NZ$700 million) that Ireland's once-richest man is reputed to have hidden in the South Pacific. Irish courts have found tycoon Sean Quinn, his son Sean Junior and nephew Peter conspired to put 455 million out of reach, rather than repay the now nationalised Anglo Irish Bank.

    The bank had to be propped up in when the Irish economy collapsed in 2008. Quinn owed 2.8 billion on property investments but got a large chunk of the money away before the new bank, Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, could recover it all. Private investigators from Risk Management International (RMI) in conjunction with the Kroll agency in London were now focussing on Vanuatu. They have been in Australia and were in New Zealand last week.

    Although the alleged method of moving the Irish money has not been disclosed, in the last two years Fairfax Media has exposed hundreds of companies on the Companies Registry used to launder money. Last week New Zealand shell companies, using an Albany, Auckland, address were key players in a missing US$1.2 billion (NZ$1.5 billion) from the Kyrgyzstan's largest bank, AsiaUniversalBank, which, like Anglo Irish, had to be nationalised.

    New Zealand has been struck off a prestigious European Union banking "white list" because of the ease with which shell companies can be used to launder drug and terrorist money. This came after revelations a Queen Street shell company washed US$680 million of what may have been Russian Mafia money through a Latvia bank.
    Earlier this year Fairfax Media revealed another Queen Street company was implicated in a Ukrainian oil rig scandal involving a missing US$150 million.

    A London based non-profit NGO, Global Witness said last week that New Zealand had become part of the "off-shore" problem and was "a critical link in the 'supply chain' for corruption". The government has repeatedly said it will tighten company registration to prevent money laundering, but the bill languishes well down on the order list.

    The Irish Independent says investigators, lead by a former detective sergeant who is also a former member of Ireland's Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, are working to establish whether Quinn concealed funds before the bank moved in to recover outstanding debt.
    RMI and Kroll are working around the clock to track down the Quinn assets that are now owed to the taxpayer.
    "There are tens of millions in cash missing." Investigators have also returned to Ukraine in recent weeks in an attempt to speak to Larisa Yanez Puga, the former manager of a Kiev shopping centre once owned by the Quinn family.

    She was named in court for signing documents that effectively transferred the claim to ownership of the US$78 million centre to an offshore company. Vanuatu has been notoriously unwilling to cooperate with investigators looking at company ownership which is why it has been popular with people wanting to hide money. But last year Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore signed a tax agreement with Vanuatu allowing for the exchange of information between both countries.

    Yesterday the Sunday Star Times reported that an Auckland shell company, with the assistance of Russian and ni-Vanuatu nominee directors, spirited nearly $1 million through Latvian bank accounts. Last year the High Court in Auckland appointed Grant Thornton's Greg Sherriff and Tim Downes as liquidators of Premio Partners after a claim for 620,900 pounds (NZ$957,000) from the liquidators of United Kingdom firm International Trading Group (UK).

    According to Sherriff, in October and November of 2008 ITG transferred the missing money into a Latvian bank account registered in the name of Premio. By the end of December, Premio's accounts had been emptied.
    The funds in Premio's accounts were allegedly transferred to bank accounts in Germany where the cash was "dissipated".

    Sherriff said Premio had no assets and no apparent business activity."Supposedly the money was used for the purpose of buying computers. Some invoices were provided to that effect - but they don't seem to have existed. It's just a vehicle for channelling money," he said. "What this does highlight is how easy it is to set up a company in New Zealand to facilitate a foreign interest to use it as a vehicle. It's shocking."
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