by tax consultant and former ATO audit manager Chris Seage|
Oct 21, 2009 1:00PM |EMAIL|PRINT
Yesterday I told Crikey readers how the Australian Taxation Office refuses to prosecute Australiaâ€™s worst tax cheatÂ — a high wealth individual who evaded $242 million in tax as part of the nationâ€™s Operation Wickenby tax probe.
Senator Nick Sherry is the Assistant Treasurer with parliamentary responsibility for the tax office. I provided him with an opportunity to comment on the tax officeâ€™s failure to refer the cheat in question to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. He declined to comment.
After my story was published in Crikey, he issued a media release defending the success of Wickenby and releasing the latest results of the much-vaunted investigation. He said: “The Rudd Government has a zero tolerance to tax evasion.” But he still declined to comment on why Australiaâ€™s biggest tax cheat was not referred to the prosecutor.
In Opposition Sherry was a ferocious interrogator of the tax commissioner in estimates hearings. Shadow ministerial staffers would phone me and say Nick is meeting with the tax commissioner next week and could I supply some questions for him on tax settlements and prosecutions. “No problem,” I replied.
In May 2006 at a Budget Estimates hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Sherry put Michael D’Ascenzo to the blowtorch on tax prosecutions, which makes interesting reading:
SHERRY:Mr Buggâ€™s reference to high-profile persons: what characterises a high-profile person for these purposes?
D’ASCENZO:I think it takes its ordinary meaning of someone who is in the public eye. We talked about high-profile people previously in the high-wealth individual space.
SHERRY: It could be a sporting, media, political identity?
D’ASCENZO:It could be. I think anything that is likely to attract a lot of public attention is something that we would refer on to the DPP for decision, provided it falls within the guidelines that we think that there is a reasonable case to answer.
SHERRY:Where you are able to ascertain intentional disregard of the tax law and evasion of millions of dollars in tax, doesnâ€™t that usually warrant prosecution?
D’ASCENZO: If you have evidence of that, that is the sort of case that would warrant prosecution.
Itâ€™s amazing how politicians can suddenly change when they get into government.