As part of the explosive Pandora Papers series, 1News can reveal a Roman Catholic order caught up in an international paedophilia scandal squirrelled nearly $300 million in assets in secret New Zealand trusts.
1News is the only New Zealand broadcaster involved in the Pandora Papers investigation, run by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). More than 11 million documents were leaked to the ICIJ, revealing the financial dealings of world leaders, billionaires, celebrities and international criminals. The ICIJ has spent months reading through numerous documents to inform this reporting.
Tuesday's revelations show how in 2010, the Vatican announced it would seize the assets of the troubled Legion of Christ Order and launch an investigation into widespread claims of sexual abuses.
Senior Legion operatives then began setting up one of a trio of trusts in New Zealand to hold money for the group. Two of those trusts then began moving money around the world, including into residential apartment blocks in several American states.
The two trusts would eventually hold $300 million in assets.
It came at a time when victims of sexual abuse of its priests were seeking financial compensation from the order through lawsuits and a commission overseen by the Vatican. As the Vatican investigated the Order, it believed it was running short on money.
In response to questions about whether the Legion disclosed the trusts to the Vatican, the order told ICIJ that “religious institutes do not have an obligation to send detailed information to the Vatican regarding their internal financial decisions or organisation”.
In statements to ICIJ, the Legion acknowledged it had set up one of the three trusts, but distanced itself from the other two, which held the majority of the funds designated for the Legion. The Legion said it had no knowledge of the other two trusts’ operations.
A review of leaked documents by ICIJ shows deep connections to the Legion in all three trusts, which share the same New Zealand address and have the same trustees managing them.
The records involving the Legion of Christ come from Asiaciti Trust, a Singapore-based corporate services provider that helped administer the New Zealand trusts. Following the 2016 Panama Papers, New Zealand’s trust regime was largely cleaned up, although a small tax loophole does still exist.
The trusts used a shell company to invest heavily in US rental properties, including in apartment complexes where tenants were evicted during the coronavirus eviction moratorium.
A trove of leaked documents reviewed by the ICIJ and 150 media partners provide an unprecedented view of global financial manoeuvres that turn rent payments into big profits that are often hidden in accounts owned by shell companies controlled by anonymous investors.
TVNZ worked with the ICIJ and NZME on the Pandora Papers.