A son of Romanian and German parents who met in a Pahiatua refugee camp, Wellington-born specialist international tax and trusts lawyer Peter Cotorceanu has clients all over the world and “lives out of a suitcase”.
On the road constantly, he hopes to soon use a new home he and his wife are building in Nova Scotia, Canada, as a base for his busy practice.
Born, raised, and educated through to law school in New Zealand – at Wanganui Collegiate and Victoria University, where he graduated with an LLB (Hons) – Peter left New Zealand almost immediately after he was sworn in to the bar to go to the United States to marry his then fiancée, Deborah.
- Peter Andreas (Peter) Cotorceanu
- Entry to law
- Graduated LLB (Hons) from Victoria University in 1980. Admitted in 1980. Juris Doctor (with distinction) from Duke University School of Law, 1982. LLM in taxation from New York University Law School in 2012. Peter is also admitted in Maryland and Virginia.
- Independent consultant with Anaford Attorneys, Zurich, Switzerland.
- Speciality area
- Taxation and automatic exchange of financial information (AEOI).
“I am still married to Deborah almost 39 years later. I got a Juris Doctor law degree from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and also have an LLM in tax from NYU law school. I have practised in the United States and Switzerland.”
He is a member of the New Zealand Law Society, Maryland Bar Association, Virginia State Bar, International Bar Association, International Tax Planning Association and Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners.
“As a consultant associated with Anaford Attorneys in Switzerland and a specialist in automatic exchange of financial information, I have the benefit of their letterhead, their banner and they have the benefit of my reputation. I am essentially a bit of a lone ranger.
“Automatic exchange of financial information (AEOI) was kicked off in the United States some time ago. People used to hide their money in Swiss banks accounts if they didn’t want to pay taxes on it.
“The US got fed up with that and passed a law called Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), requiring banks all around the world to report their US account holders.
“Other countries thought it was a good idea and adopted the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). It applies to any place they think you might hide money.
“One of the places they are really suspicious of is trusts. I used to work at UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, and I was in charge of making their trust companies around the world compliant with FATCA and CRS.
“I developed expertise in that and I specialise now in AEOI, most particularly as it relates to trust companies. Most of my clients are trust companies.
“I live out of a suitcase, am on the road almost constantly and have clients all over the world.”
For example, last week Peter was on his way to the Bahamas for a week for a conference, then to Germany, then Switzerland, back to Germany, back to the United States and then to Canada. “That’s the nature of my life at the moment. I’ve gone through a few passports. I have a New Zealand one and my Romanian citizenship as well (through his father), which is handy because it’s a European Union country.
“My wife Deborah, who was born in Nova Scotia has a house in Ridgway, Pennsylvania, which is where I am now. We are building a house in Nova Scotia and that’s where I will be based.
“Ridgway is small and remote in northwest Pennsylvania. My wife, who was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, grew up here and I was an American Field Service exchange student here.”
School running record
A cross-country champion at Wanganui Collegiate for a couple years in his age group, Peter ran the two miles on the track when he was an exchange student at Ridgway Area High School, and broke the school record. “That was back in 1974 and my record still stands after 45 years.”
“My two-mile time – something I am proud of and will never forget – was nine minutes and 52 seconds.”
Peter kept up running, completing the Paris and Munich marathons, until knee and hip niggles slowed him down – running the Munich Marathon at 57 in three hours 42 minutes. “I was quite pleased with that.”
Over the last five or six years Peter has also spent a couple of months a year in New Zealand, including to visit his late mother. “Because I can work remotely I have taken advantage of that.”
Peter’s parents met in a refugee camp in Pahiatua in 1951.
His Romanian father escaped from the communists in Romania and made his way to Yugoslavia, where he again escaped the communists into Greece and from there to New Zealand.
His German mother was nine when war broke out, growing up in Munich during the war. “She was 15 when the war was over. Her school was bombed and she never finished school. Munich was heavily bombed because it was Hitler’s base and she was deeply traumatised by that.”
“She was afraid then because of talk of a Cold War starting and she was afraid there would be another hot war. She made herself a refugee and came to New Zealand.”
Peter’s parents went on to own and run restaurants in Waiouru, Taihape and Wellington.
His five surviving siblings live in Wellington, Auckland and Sydney. Another brother is deceased.
“My daughter Leah – who had our first grandchild on December 27 - lives in Virginia Beach, where she designs and makes jewellery in silver and gold, a lot of it in New Zealand motifs. My son Adam is a DJ in clubs and bars in Berlin.”
Rugby and chess
“I love playing chess and watching all sports in general, particularly rugby. I am a hardcore Hurricanes and All Blacks fan, and the Wellington Lions. I try to watch all Hurricanes games, which is not always easy in the United States, it is easier in Canada. I also follow Duke College basketball, my old university here.
“My favourite places are Italy for the food, atmosphere, history, architecture and people. And the Caribbean where we have a timeshare in Saint Martin and spend a decent amount of time there. The British Virgin Islands are also stunning.
“I love music but I’m not talented enough to play anything. I like classic rock. My favourites are Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Lep Zepellin, Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
“I like reading deeply philosophical books, about the nature of the universes, the existence or non-existence of God. There’s a lot of good stuff written on that topic which to me is the most fundamental topic there is.
“I try to read the other side. A lot of people get locked into their own point of view. I have changed my views 180 degrees through my life so I know what it feels like to have the opposite view.
“I like to keep in touch with the other side. I am a firm believer in God - I used to be an atheist. I am now a firm believer in his existence.
“I watch television a lot, especially streaming good shows. And am riveted by Nordic noir crime dramas. English and Scandinavian shows are excellent.”
“I am the first lawyer in the family - the only errant one in the family. My father always told me growing up I had to be a lawyer because I argued all the time.
“I never practised in New Zealand and left as soon as I was admitted. But my parents had a dispute about a lease on a restaurant and they asked me to come back and try the case, which I did.
“I had no clue what I was doing. It was the first case I had ever tried in my life. A five-day trial by fire. I muddled my way through it and we won, but it was the scariest experience of my life.
“I was really out of my depth, and not used to wearing wig and gown. Learning the rules of evidence in law school is different to applying them in practice. And getting an exhibit actually admitted. But we got a result.
“I was attracted to law because of the logic of it. In high school my favourite subject was maths, I was always very good at maths.
“The law appealed to me because of the reasoning aspect and the intellectual challenge, more than the practical aspects. I was deciding whether I would major in maths or law. It was a hard decision.
“I bumbled my way into my particular field. I was a litigator when I started. That involved a lot of paper work, especially in the US, where there’s a lot of discovery.
“Very little time is spent in court. But I got a good amount of trial and appellate experience and I did enjoy it. I basically didn’t like the firm I was with, got a better offer and got into estate planning, trusts and tax planning.”
The teaching side
Peter was a law professor for a number of years, teaching part-time at William and Mary Law School in Williamsburg ,Virginia, for nine years, then full-time at Washburn University Law School, Kansas, for five years before he went to Switzerland.
“I loved the teaching side. I always had an academic bent and love public speaking and teaching.
“Then the opportunity came to go from Topeka, Kansas – which I wasn’t particularly fond of – to Zurich, Switzerland, where I chose to go on my next adventure.
“When I went to Switzerland I worked for a cross border tax practice, always involving some sort of United States aspect. Then went to UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank. I did tax planning for a while then they put me in charge of their trusts products.
“That was not a trajectory I would have chosen. When I was younger I thought trusts and tax lawyers were the most boring people on the planet. I could not see how anyone would ever want to practise that aspect but now I thoroughly enjoy it.
“For an alternative career I would definitely go back to being an academic. If I didn’t teach law I would do something like philosophy.
“I read your lawyer profiles and who knows, some of my law school class mates might remember me.
“I have three cars - a GMC Acadia SUV, a Ford Focus and a Toyota Corolla. We leave one car in Canada, and always drive to Nova Scotia because we have a dog.
“He’s about 15 months old and 90lbs, a total mutt called Tane – king of the forest. He’s a mix of golden retriever, Labrador, husky, German shepherd and border collie.
“My dinner guests would include comedian Ricky Gervais, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Jesus, and Joan of Arc. Serving up lamb chops and apple strudel. My mother being from Munich taught me how to make apple strudel. I make it myself. I’m a beer drinker myself so there would be beer and wine.”