Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cook Islands News fires up over offshore banking

COOK ISLANDS NEWS editor John Woods has featured a caustic editorial blast in response to an attack on the paper over a recent story about offshore banking and the impact of an impending new finance amendment law. The News reported that the government's plan to "abolish the offshore banking industry ruffled lots of feathers". Trustees Companies Association president Brian Mason claimed "irresponsible journalism". He was particularly irked over Woods' final paragraph saying that behind a screen of privacy and protection, offshore banks were able to get away with corrupt practices such as money laundering and providing funds for terrorism. Mason issued a statement claiming the comment was disgraceful coming from a newspaper editor. “If the offshore banks in the Cook Islands are involved in providing funds for terrorism, then all of [the regulatory] agencies are either complicit in it or are not doing their jobs.”

But Woods rejected the sweeping interpretation by Mason and replied in his editorial:
Emotive, exaggerated and vacuous slanging of the kind dished out by Brian Mason is self-serving tripe. I am referring to his [front page] media statement casting aspersions and drawing wild conclusions on our story about the offshore banking industry.
Our story was very clear that the new law will abolish just the offshore banking industry. It explicitly stated that the law change will not affect the remainder of the offshore sector, and specifically said that international trusts and companies are not involved.
We accept that some people may not distinguish between offshore banks and offshore trusts, but that is not our doing. Everything else Mr Mason says about our story is wrong.
Woods added that ironically it was the very secrecy afforded to this industry under Section 227 of the International Companies Act 1981-82 that prevented the News from publishing the evidence that Mason suggested - wrongly - the paper did not have. The News said it had been investigating claims of corruption and terrorism financing by one offshore bank for the past three years.

Undoubtedly the issue will start hotting up. Already, over at Tgif Edition winebox papers investigative journo and author Ian Wishart was also breaking the story - in much greater depth, especially with the NZ connections:
A global business conglomerate tied to international money laundering and linked by Indian police, the CIA and MI6 to one of the world’s most wanted criminals and terrorists, is trying to get listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange by leveraging its connections to a couple of senior NZ politicians.
Meanwhile, onetime student editor and media commentator and campaigner Murray Horton and his four decades of activism have been profiled by The Press in a two-page feature: "The last radical". As Horton, now nearing 60, jokes, "they've been kind enough to write my obituary without me having to go through the bother of dying first."

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