Michael Pascoe writes:


Generally overlooked in Tuesday night’s
budget was the disclosure of Australia’s
most successful investment scheme: Operation Wickenby – the ATO’s
campaign against wealthy tax evaders. According to Peter Costello, he
made $2.3
billion on an $382 million investment – a very nice 500%, right
up
there with what Macquarie Bank might
have made on its scuttled Patrick plan. The extra road and rail
spending
covered in one hit.

Incrementally, Cossie says he will make 650% on the last $82 million – a $615 million return. That’s heading
towards the stuff of uranium explorer floats. Nice work, Treasurer.

So why was it largely treated as a minor
footnote to the great baby boomer bribe? Maybe it was because of the
familiarity of regular claims that the ATO is going to crack down on the dodgy
tax practices of the very rich – something that didn’t seem to have much
credibility in light of the ATO walking away from Rob Gerard’s tax affairs.

The budget promised an extra $82 million on
top of $300 million previously allocated. The $300 million was meant to yield
$1.7 billion, but now Treasury is expecting a $2.3 billion dividend. John
Garnaut
covered the tax crackdown claim in The SMH as well as anyone. In part:

Mr Costello said the Tax Office’s
High Wealth Individuals Taskforce needed more money to keep pace with the
growing ranks of rich people.

He said: “These measures
include ensuring appropriate tax is paid on income distributed by Australian
resident trustees to non-resident trusts; increasing resources for the High
Wealth Individuals Taskforce; [and] funding the co-ordinated law enforcement
action codenamed Operation Wickenby to get at international tax evasion and
crime.”

Wickenby must be developing into a very
interesting story indeed. The last update of any substance by the Australian
Crime Commission last June was only suggesting something more than $300 million. The operation’s genesis
was a referral to the ACC from the ATO in 2003.

One naturally assumes no Reserve Bank board
members are involved, but the sort of individuals who can indulge in tax
evasion on the suggested scale also can indulge in lawyers’ fees of similar
magnitude.