Fake reception prompts probe

A political candidate has sparked the Reserve Bank and the Financial Markets Authority to visit a foreign-owned company offering "secret" offshore accounts.

Grace Haden, an independent standing for election in Epsom, raised concerns with the regulators about Breder Suasso, which is referred to on overseas websites as a New Zealand bank and as providing banking services, despite not being registered as one here.

She pointed to a photo on the Auckland-based company's website, since removed, which featured a plush reception with an oil painting on the wall. In fact the company has a poky office with room for only a single desk and a line of filing cabinets down one wall.

Breder Suasso admitted the photo was faked for marketing purposes, a detail buried in fine print on the website.

It confirmed the Auckland office had been visited by the regulators following Haden's complaints.

The would-be MP's main concern is that Breder Suasso is registered on the Financial Service Providers Register (FSP), giving the false impression it is regulated in New Zealand.

But it doesn't sell secret offshore accounts in New Zealand, and is not regulated to provide financial services here.

Since July 1, the FMA has had the power to remove organisations and individuals from the FSP "if registration is likely to give a false or misleading impression that the person is regulated by NZ, or providing services from or in NZ, or is otherwise likely to damage the integrity or reputation of NZ's financial markets or law or regulatory arrangements."

The FMA had not yet used that power, but said: "We are looking into the company to clarify what services they provide and where."

The Reserve Bank would not comment, but Breder Suasso spokesman Ben Cohen said via email: "We have been in reception of a request from the Reserve Bank and a visit of the FMA, we co-operate and are doing our best to be fully compliant with New Zealand right and laws."

He said Breder Suasso hoped it was not giving the impression it was regulated in New Zealand, and felt its website provided "all information . . . to make sure nobody intends to think so".

The company was set up in February. Company office records show it is owned by Teodoro De Regibus, whose address is in the English town of Hitchin. He took over the company in May, changing its name to Breder Suasso from Sobraine Limited.

Breder Suasso markets offshore accounts to foreigners, telling its clients on its website: "Your account information is kept confidential, our staff highly respect clients confidentiality and secrecy. People will know about your Breder Suasso Account only if you tell them."

The accounts are not its own however, but are set up with Polish Bank Bre Bank, Cohen said.

International debit cards, included pre-loaded debit cards, are issued to clients.

The history section of the company formed only this year reads: "Three outstanding men from the Lopes Suasso family left their mark on the banking world. They distinguished themselves by their unique philosophy, setting their banking practices high and above others following simpler methods. For this they were ennobled and honored with the title of Baron d'Avernas Le Gras. Breder Suasso is proud to follow in the footsteps of these three remarkable generations of brilliant bankers."

Haden fears New Zealand can too easily be used as a virtual home by overseas organisations piggy-backing off its reputation when they do no business here.

She also says it is still too easy to set up a company here or for foreigners to take ownership of shelf companies.

Cohen said Breder Suasso complied with anti-money laundering laws and screened clients to ensure it didn't handle any funds from criminal sources.

He also said it scanned clients through a worldwide check to avoid a politically exposed person, which is jargon for people linked to corrupt politicians.

He said the Auckland office was home to some of Breder Suasso's administration and stored its archives. "These files are ready to be submitted for any official visit such as the one we have had this week by the FMA."

The rest of its operations are managed abroad, he said.

Sunday Star Times