NZ firms linked to money laundering

Stella Port-Louis, of the Seychelles, is director of four Queen St companies linked to illegal activities
Stella Port-Louis, of the Seychelles, is director of four Queen St companies linked to illegal activities

Criminals are using shell companies set up under New Zealand's lax company laws to launder money.

Companies created by an Auckland firm operating out of Queen St have been linked to Russian crime, a Mexican drug cartel and Romanian extortion.

A 16-month Fairfax Media investigation has also tied companies created by Geoffrey Taylor and his sons Ian and Michael, who work out of 363 Queen St, to a company that smuggled arms out of North Korea.

The government admits there is a problem but says it has had other priorities.

The Taylor operation is not illegal, but the companies they create are connected to serious crimes in a number of countries.

They set up a shell company, Bristoll Export Ltd, that helped move part of the proceeds of a $245 million Russian tax fraud out of Moscow and into Swiss bank accounts. London-based Hermitage Capital Management hired a lawyer to find out what happened, but he died in a Moscow jail.

Hermitage chief executive Bill Browder told the Sunday Star-Times he was "highly motivated to make sure all aspects of this story see the light of day", and that he had a "treasure trove of information" about New Zealand companies' ties to the scandal.

The Taylors set up complex webs of companies, and one of them, linked to Russians in Cyprus, is administered out of a home in Albany near Auckland.

A United States Justice Department investigation into the banking giant Wachovia, also tied Taylor-linked companies to the movement of drug money. Wachovia was fined more than $202m for helping disguise the illegal origins of up to $479 billion for Mexican drug lords, predominantly the murderous Sinaloa cartel. Four Taylor companies "filtered" $50m in drug money through banks in Latvia and on to Wachovia. Each of the companies had just one director – Stella Port-Louis, 32, of the Seychelles, until recently a director of around 300 New Zealand companies.

Canada's Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre, which assessed Wachovia, identified the "exploitation of New Zealand's weak company registration laws" as a problem.

International expert Martin Woods said shell companies were "ideal vehicles for money launderers, tax evaders and arms traffickers".

In 2009, a Georgia-registered cargo plane flew from North Korea to Bangkok and was found to have 35 tonnes of arms on it. The plane was chartered by SP Trading Ltd, a company set up by the Taylors.

The company's director was a Burger King cook named Lu Zhang, 29, who was later convicted of 75 breaches of the Companies Act for giving false addresses on registration forms, something she described in court as "one little mistake".

She is also a director of companies linked to Romanian Lorenzo Kiss, who is under arrest over an alleged $14.5m embezzlement.

Ian Taylor told the Sunday Star-Times media reports connected dots that weren't there.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Auckland's forensic services director Alex Tan said using company service providers had become common here.

"The money-laundering and even terrorist financing risks associated with them are high, particularly considering they can be set up over the internet."

Sunday Star Times