Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with Azerbaijan’s ruler Ilham Aliyev
New Zealand is reportedly demanding answers as to why ownership of a group of Maltese companies linked to Azerbaijan’s ruling family was transferred to New Zealand last November.
New Zealand financial consultants who spoke to The Australian Financial Review said they were confused at the decision to create new holding companies in New Zealand for Maltese companies on 29th November, when they were already virtually tax-free in Malta.
The Daphne Project last month reported that Pilatus Bank held accounts for several companies ultimately owned by Azeri oligarchs – including the two daughters of the country’s ruler Ilham Aliyev and the two sons of Minister For Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov. The structures were reportedly used by the Aliyevs and Heydarovs to hold investments across Europe, all while hiding their true identities.
A recent investigation by MaltaToday found that 11 of these companies form part of a single structure, whose ownership is equally divided between two Maltese holding companies. These holding companies are in turn owned by two New Zealand trusts. According to Radio New Zealand, Auckland-based wealth management firm Denton Morell helped transfer the ownership of these companies from Malta to New Zealand.
Now the AFR has questioned whether the timing of the move had anything to do with the fact that the European Bank Authority had announced a preliminary inquiry into Pilatus Bank a few weeks prior. However financial executive Kenneth Ross Hetherington, who signed the transfers, vehemently denied the timing was incidental.
“I cannot provide confidential client information but any suggestion that I have been directly or indirectly involved in any action to avoid European Banking Authority surveillance or for any other unlawful or improper purpose is entirely incorrect,” he told the AFR.
New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs is now reportedly planning to meet up with Denton Morrell to acquire further information about these structures.