31 March 2017

Shining a light on offshore tax evasion

More than 340 Australians with links to Swiss banking relationship managers alleged to have actively promoted and facilitated tax evasion schemes have been identified by the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) through a joint international investigation.

In the coming week, the SFCT will interview bank employees, taxpayers and lawyers as part of its investigation into whether Australians identified in the data have failed to comply with their tax obligations or been involved in criminal activity. This follows overnight (Thursday, 30 March AEDT) search warrants and arrests by authorities in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

The Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, said information gathered throughout the course of international collaboration by the SFCT indicates that the Australians identified hold unnamed numbered accounts with a Swiss bank.

“The fact that these accounts are unnamed means that by their very nature they are likely to have been established to hide the identity of the owner,” Minister O’Dwyer said.

“Taskforce agencies are working through their intelligence to determine the taxpayers in this group who have done the right thing, and those who have been concealing the true nature of their tax affairs.”

Of the 346 Australians identified, 23 have already come forward under the ATO’s Project DO IT or have been previously subject to ATO compliance action. It is expected that many identified will have complied with their tax obligations.

“Unfortunately, there are still those who believe they can dodge from their tax obligations and avoid detection by government agencies,” Minister O’Dwyer said.

“As revenue authorities continue to gather and share intelligence in the coming weeks, they expect to move quickly to pinpoint those people who’ve deliberately promoted or willingly participated in these schemes.

“The message from these investigations makes it clear that governments worldwide are shining a light on offshore tax evasion, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re in the spotlight.

“The SFCT is equipped with the resources, data-matching capability and the international and domestic intelligence-sharing relationships to uncover even the most intricately-planned tax evasion schemes.

“We are determined to stop this behaviour and ensure that everyone pays the right amount of tax to fund vital community services such as education, transport and public health.”

Project DO IT was a once-off opportunity for Australians to disclose their unreported offshore financial activities in exchange for reduced penalties.

Anyone found to have offshore tax arrangements now and into the future who did not disclose under Project DO IT will face the full force of the law, including significant financial penalties, and in cases of criminality, possible jail time.

Since the SFCT was established more than 421 audits have been completed, and liabilities have been raised in excess of $190.89 million. Four people have received custodial sentences following prosecution and there are currently 25 criminal, civil and intelligence matters in progress.