OFFSHORE BANKING CASES STILL BIG COOK ISLANDS SECRET

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By Moana Moeka‘a

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (October 6, 2001 – Cook Islands News)---While the offshore banking industry maintains that everything possible is being done to enforce anti-money laundering measures, ordinary Cook Islanders still cannot sit in on court-related cases.

Secrecy provisions under the International Trust Act prevents cases being held in an open court, as was the case in a recent action - "019/01" -- which was heard in the Avarua High Court.

"I cannot give you any information. These cases are held in-camera," says Registrar Nooapii Tearea.

In fact, offshore banking matters have been very secretive since the establishment of the industry in the early 1980s — that is, until details relating to Cook Islands transactions were revealed by New Zealand MP Winston Peters in Parliament, which eventually led to the "Winebox" Commission of Inquiry in 1994.

Last year, a Cook Islands trust refused to return money to the United States after allegations of misconduct were made by the Federal Trade Commission against a couple who established the trust.

Asiaciti Trust Pacific Ltd. sought an opinion from the Cook Islands High Court, which confirmed that the trust was right in not returning the money.

The Cook Islands is still on an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Harmful Tax Competition Initiative blacklist.

The country is also listed by the Financial Action Task Force for being a "non-cooperative jurisdiction"

However, the Cook Islands government believes it will be de-listed at the next FATF plenary meeting.

Financial Secretary Kevin Carr said last week that the establishment of a financial intelligence unit on the island this month would satisfy most of the remaining concerns of the OECD’s Financial Action Task Force.

Meanwhile, CINews has still had no answer from New Zealand’s Television One News to questions about an item it screened recently linking the offshore banking industry in the Cook Islands and Nauru with terrorism.

Among other things, CINews asked TV1 whether it considered it was fair and responsible to run the news item without first checking on the progress the Cook Islands has made over the last year in meeting OECD demands.

The newspaper also asked whether it was fair and responsible of TV1 to run the item with a large picture of terrorist Osama bin Laden in the background.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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