Glenn Wheatley completed his 15 month jail term on Saturday with Victorian corrections officials removing his electronic ankle bracelet at his home. He then mercilessly unloaded on Operation Wickenby, his tormentors for the past few years in a Weekend Australian interview before reportedly left the country for a holiday with his wife.

But were Wheatley’s words the rants of someone holding a grudge against the system that sent him to the big house or should we listen carefully to what he said. Let’s look at what he said and you be the judge:

My right to privacy was trampled on by tax officials.

Wheatley claims his personal tax affairs were leaked to the media by the ATO. He is right – they were. Wickenby has been beset by constant leaks from ATO and Australian Crime Commission investigators. Just ask Paul Hogan, John Cornell and Melbourne celebrity lawyer Michael Brereton. Wheatley’s barrister Robert Richter was adamant where the leaks came from. He told Crikey last year, “It’s the bloody tax office.” The ATO response has been pathetic with tax chief Michael D’Ascenzo saying they routinely analyse newspaper reports to ensure the leak did not come from them.

I was the poster boy for Operation Wickenby.

No doubt about this one as Wheatley is the only conviction coming out of Wickenby after four long years of taxpayer funding.

Operation Wickenby is in tatters. “It is nothing short of an embarrassment to the five agencies involved. How many millions have been spent for only one conviction? They have bungled the investigation. It is a disaster for them.”

Over the last few years Crikey readers know full well my views on Wickenby. I agree with Wheatley. It’s a national witch hunt for high profile scalps and it hasn’t delivered. At this very moment Wickenby is $121 million dollars in the red. They have spent 4/7ths of their budget ($174M of $305M) but have collected only $53 million.

D’Ascenzo likes to tell parliamentary committees he has raised $44 million in collections as a result of improved compliance behaviour by Wickenby participants and had $60 million restrained under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Sorry Mr D’Ascenzo, I’m not convinced about these rubbery figures as your voluntary compliance effect has not been tested at a parliamentary committee and restrained does not mean collected.

“I was given a tougher sentence than I deserved because the Australian Taxation Office, ministers, prosecutors and the judge wanted to make a political point to promote Wickenby and to deter others.”

There is no doubt that the prosecution was politically-charged. Crikey broke the story 15 months ago that Wheatley had been dudded by bureaucratic leaks and zealots (Crikey, July 25 2007, “Wheatley dudded by bureaucratic leaks and zealots“). The government was under pressure. They had allocated $305 million to fund Wickenby, with the DPP receiving about $60 million over six years. But where were the results? The government apparently needed a trophy — so step forward Glenn Wheatley.

They certainly have not given the incentive for others to come forward and confess.

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.

Peter Fray

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