News that a senior tax office auditor Peter Spence has quit his job after being earlier suspended for having links with the Melbourne underworld figure Mick Gatto has sent shudders through the ATO’s serious non-compliance unit.

“The b-stard’s probably compromised our investigations into Melbourne’s gangland”, said one auditor who cannot be named. “They are probably offloading their assets now and destroying records. I just hope our boys are safe”, he said.

Spence, a former Victorian major crime squad investigator, has spent four years in the ATO’s serious non-compliance unit working on the most serious cases into organised and criminal tax fraud. He was suspended by the ATO after Victoria Police’s Purana taskforce passed on information about his relationship with Mr Gatto. He denies any wrongdoing.

The Tax Office’s response has been ordinary. The article says that a spokeswoman could not comment on why Mr Spence was suspended as investigations were continuing and she refused to comment on what vetting procedures were in place to screen ATO investigators or what steps were taken to protect investigation methodology.

Whenever the ATO refuses to comment on matters where its sacred secrecy provisions do not apply, you know it is hiding something.

The ATO does take precautions with its auditors involved in organised crime work. Auditors are provided with a new identity and they drive unmarked Commonwealth vehicles registered to their new identity. All official government and non government records relating to their real identity are destroyed.

The office where they work is like something out of the TV series Get Smart with coded access to a number of doors before they reach their desk. The walls surrounding their work location are beefed up with reinforced steel to prevent break-ins while each officer has a safe to store their confidential material in. All this, but they can’t stop a rat within the ranks!

The first thing the ATO should do is to ensure the protection of its gangland investigators. Has information been passed on about investigators’ real identities? Do the crime barons know where they live?

We know how Melbourne’s ruthless underworld works so tax chief Michael D’Ascenzo should come out and make a public statement to reassure all ATO staff and the general community that everything is OK and their investigators are safe. Hiding behind well paid spin doctors is not the answer.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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