A plan is being hatched by prominent Operation Wickenby stakeholders to approach the new Labor government to seek a once only moratorium for suspects caught up in the former Liberal government probe to come forward and voluntarily confess their offshore sins, much like the tax office offshore voluntary disclosure initiative announced mid year. The plan includes suspects paying any tax owed with 5% penalties applied so long as they are not going to be prosecuted and sent to jail.
This comes after key Wickenby suspects MM and DD lost their Federal Court challenge yesterday over the Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) right to keep documents subject to legal professional privilege. Their names have been suppressed by the courts; however, one has been described as a financial adviser, the other as his client, an offshore resident who used to live in Australia.
It was an important win to the authorities because had they lost, it meant that documents used to mount the case against the Wickenby suspects would have to be returned and the case against them dismantled. It could have been the end of Wickenby there and then. Lawyers representing the suspects will appeal the decision.
Sources reveal that Tax Commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo broke out one of his favourite bottles of Guinness after being told of the win. The founding member of the ATO’s Guinness Guzzlers Club has been embarrassed by the failure of the project to date.
While D’Ascenzo celebrated in Canberra, high profile lawyers in Sydney and Melbourne were plotting their next move. Crikey understands that lawyers representing various Wickenby suspects have devised a litigation program that will have the government tangled up in legal red tape for the next ten years. This strategy has been devised for one reason: To keep their clients out of jail. One legal source told me, “My client doesn’t mind spending $5 million dollars a year in legal bills if it’s going to stop him becoming the next Glenn Wheatley”. Crikey can also reveal that this strategy is shared by many Wickenby suspects and their legal advisors who have the financial resources to take the government on. Many are high profile entertainers and sports people and are a who’s who in Australia.
Crikey readers might take the view that this is just another example of special treatment for the rich and famous. But what is the alternative? Wickenby is a multi government agency investigation started by the Liberal Government over three years ago to witch hunt and out publically high profile Australians who were suspected of tax cheating. The cost to taxpayers is $305 million dollars. To date they have spent more than they have raised in revenue and the project is now $100m in the red.
The only people charged have been three unknown Gold Coast businessmen and Wheatley. We have seen criminal leaks of information from the ACC and ATO to the media apparently sanctioned by the Liberal Government to deliberately embarrass prominent Australians Paul Hogan, John Cornell and Melbourne lawyer Michael Brereton. And what ever happened to the 500 Wickenby suspects that the Liberal government proclaimed existed when they announced the commencement of the project? You don’t hear of them now do you?
Prominent Wickenby stakeholders believe Labor has an ideal opportunity to save face with the Australian public. They could say that the Liberals have devoted too much in the way of taxpayer funds with little return. By declaring a moratorium Labor would ensure a bulging consolidated revenue with suspects coming forward and paying their dues while saving taxpayer funds in what is going to be a protracted legal battle for many years to come. Over to you Attorney-General Robert McClelland.