The tax office is yet to release the findings of an inquiry by crimebuster Tony Fitzgerald QC into the alleged links between Melbourne’s underworld and the serious non-compliance unit of the Melbourne branch of the Australian Taxation Office.

Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen’s office (who has responsibility for administrative matters relating to the tax office in parliament) has told Crikey that Bowen has not seen the report.

Tax Commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo commissioned Mr Fitzgerald in July last year to investigate a potential conflict of interest in the serious non-compliance unit in Melbourne office after Victorian Police spotted senior ATO auditor Peter Spence and his regional manager Gary Chell talking to underworld personality Mick Gatto for two minutes in a cafe during a covert surveillance operation.

It is understood the police lodged a complaint with the tax office alleging that tax officers should not be talking to underworld figures.

It has been reported that Spence was investigating underworld figures at the time. This is incorrect — he was involved in investigating GST fraud.

Spence is a 21-year veteran of Victorian crime squads and between 2002-2007 was employed as a senior investigator by the ATO. He was suspended from duty in 2007 because of his link with Gatto and later resigned due to frustrations with how the tax office was handling his matter and his view that continual leaks of his case were being made to The Age by the ATO.

Thus to date, the minister responsible for the tax office has not been briefed by the tax commissioner on serious allegations of systemic corruption among its top investigators. Crikey understands substantial taxpayer dollars have been spent in investigating the allegation by one of Australia’s top QCs.

Spence told Crikey that he declared to the ATO in 2005 he knew Gatto from his policing days and his honesty was praised in an internal Tax Office newsletter, which stated: “The importance of the staff member’s actions in these circumstances cannot be underestimated.” 

The cafe where police spotted Gatto, Spence and his regional manager having an impromptu chat was less than two hundred metres from where Spence worked at Casselden Place.

Spence told Crikey that he and his colleague had dropped into the cafe to get a coffee when Mick Gatto spotted them and approached Spence to say hello. According to Spence, the informal chat lasted less than two minutes.

Crikey put a series of questions to the tax office media unit, including:

Has Mr Fitzgerald completed his inquiry? If so, what date was it completed?

Has Mr D’Ascenzo received the report?

What findings did Mr Fitzgerald make?

Why hasn’t the report been made public?

How much has the inquiry cost the ATO?

Has the ATO made changes to its administration due to findings made in the report?

Crikey received this response from the Acting Senior Director of Media Relations, Leisha-Mae Hawthorne:

My apologies for the delay in responding to you. I regret to inform you that we are unable to help you with your enquiry. The Media Unit is only resourced to support professional journalists writing on tax and superannuation issues.

Crikey then contacted Mr D’Acenszo for a more satisfactory response but did not hear back before deadline.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey