From Panama’s cabals at the canal to smurfing in NZ

By Ferdinand Balfoort, from Northumbria

Some of us may have encountered some odd groups of Smurfs walking by in Auckland lately. Those sufficiently alert among us may have also noted the bulging briefcases they carried. The long-term impact of their activities in our Land of the Long White Cloud may in future include us collectively paying our rent to, well, Smurfs. Don’t complain that we didn’t tell you. But we should start at the beginning, taking us back four years and another continent.

Smurf less briefcase. They are not good news unless they are stationary and provide a perch for the birds in your garden. Note the appropriate whiteness of hat to allow bird guano to blend in. (

The Central Bureau of Investigations in India is not an agency to be trifled with. Think dark glasses and guys (or gals) speaking surreptitiously in microphones in pursuit of the black money trails around the world. After a brief interlude at the banks of the Panama Canal, CBI Director A P Singh decided to release a public statement about what had been bothering him for a while. According to our intrepid Director, 53 percent of the countries said to be least corrupt on the Corruptions Perception Index are in fact offshore tax havens. Even crooks want some security I guess.

No point parking your funds in Nigeria, because we all know what happens then. Accordingly, New Zealand features in the top five preferred destinations for Indian hot money, amounting to a part of US$ 500 Billion (and everyone else’s, not surprisingly.) Black money: Indians have stashed over $500bn in banks abroad, says CB

Singh’s comments bounced around the world, were quoted in various media publications for a brief while, and then fizzled out like a flaming star in a body of water. It could well have been the Panama Canal. I happen to have a good memory and I can remember tending to the roses when the news came over the radio. This is why I have linked these distant events for the benefit of our readers, to provide a perspective in time. I hasten to add that my historical review does not attempt to shift time back, as Ramon Fonseca allegedly did, on a sliding scale. The US$ 8.75 his firm charged for each month of backdating legal documents for clients just doesn’t interest me. Considering the millions he saved his clientele I would have wanted a percentage of the inflated cake. Just kidding.

Ramon Fonseca – Once compared his company to a car factory on Panama TV. Cars and time-shifting were in the DNA of his Panamaniac firm of dodgy advisors. (Courtesy

My immediate thought on reading about the latest Pananamania was to silently congratulate whoever leaked the information that allowed the report to be produced by the ICIJ. My next thought was basically “so what”. Have we not known about this long back? As I noted, the CBI was already ringing the alarm bells in 2012, and nothing has happened. Transparency International published our report titled Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment in 2013, and nothing happened.

In fact, because nothing happened, matters are getting worse over time, and well, a bit backwards I suppose. In our fair country the impact is most obviously felt in property prices. These are being pushed out of our reach by foreign buyers, willing to secure their ticket to paradise, and out of reach of their national tax and other agencies (or their divorce proceedings). Stratfor notes, in their contribution to the Panama debate, “The average citizen usually lacks the motive and the resources to make use of such facilities.” Panama Papers: A Rude Awakening for the World's Wealthy

Equally, the average and increasingly poor New Zealanders lack the motive and energy to focus on this critical issue. I hope this article contributes to us all coming out of our slumber.

This feral Smurf mostly grunts to communicate because he couldn’t afford a decent education. For similar reasons he swings around trees and lives in caves and wears oak leave bandanas.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) government method to stop their citizens from exporting their OIC (Often Ill Conceived) wealth was to impose currency controls. Equally, they are keen to show a strong will to stop corruption, motivated by reasons that may paradoxically not necessarily relate to corruption. The PRC has a regulation that prohibits the carrying of cash outside the country amounting to more than US$ 50,000 per person per year. In echoes of a Columbian drug opera, centre stage to the Smurfs. A Smurf is someone who is paid by an Evader to carry up the limit of US$ 50,000 and deposit it in a bank account desired, for example a bank branch in Auckland. By employing 100s of Smurfs (and Smurfettes), large amounts of cash can so be transported from one Evader. How Moving Funds from China to Vancouver Often Mirrors How Columbian Drug Lords Move their Money

Buying a property is a natural part of the scheme to establish a quiet escape, a fall-back position, and to launder the Smurfed dollar bills. If you Smurf enough you might even become an economic immigrant and get some official papers from our government to confirm you are a Kiwi Smurf. Unfortunately, as economists will tell you, inflation is the result of too many Smurfs chasing too few houses.

And this is why, my dear fellow Kiwis, we should be highly concerned and active when we get any Panamanian news. The uncontrolled passage of Smurfs (and Smurfettes) through our airport immigration, to our banks and then into our society means we will soon be living like Wild Smurfs in our own country.

Ferdinand Balfoort with his son Coenraad in front of their ancestral castle

About the author: Ferdinand C Balfoort (MCA,CA,CIA) is an international governance expert with academic and professional expertise and interests in cross cultural impacts of corruption, Smurfs and financial reporting. He has managed numerous forensic investigations, including corruption and fraud reporting. He is known to wear funny hats on occasion.


Recent Activity

Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 TINZ media release
Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perception Index (TI CPI) has found that the New Zealand and Denmark public sectors are the least corrupt in the world. 25 Jan, 2017

TINZ OGP Submission
Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) submitted recommendations for New Zealand’s second Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plan (NAP). Among the recommendations were a call for more ambition in creating NAPs and developing channels of communication for improving engagement with citizens. 19 Aug, 2016

Safeguarding the public interest in research
1 Aug, 2016

EU and New Zealand tax transparency
1 Aug, 2016

London Summit 2016 NZ Statement Commitments Progress
31 Jul, 2016

New Zealand Country Statement Anti Corruption Summit London 2016
29 May, 2016

Shewan Inquiry Submission Media Release
TINZ has provided its submission to the Shewan Inquiry calling on the government to widen the terms of reference to protect New Zealand's reputation and future proof our laws following the release of the "Panama papers". 21 May, 2016

CPI 2015 TINZ Media Release
Corruption Free? NZ drops again. New Zealand has fallen to fourth place in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). 26 Jan, 2016