Yesterday I told Crikey readers how the Australian Taxation Office refuses to prosecute Australia’s worst tax cheat — a high wealth individual who evaded $242 million in tax as part of the nation’s Operation Wickenby tax probe.

Senator Nick Sherry is the Assistant Treasurer with parliamentary responsibility for the tax office. I provided him with an opportunity to comment on the tax office’s failure to refer the cheat in question to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for prosecution. He declined to comment.

After my story was published in Crikey, he issued a media release defending the success of Wickenby and releasing the latest results of the much-vaunted investigation. He said: “The Rudd Government has a zero tolerance to tax evasion.” But he still declined to comment on why Australia’s biggest tax cheat was not referred to the prosecutor.

In Opposition Sherry was a ferocious interrogator of the tax commissioner in estimates hearings. Shadow ministerial staffers would phone me and say Nick is meeting with the tax commissioner next week and could I supply some questions for him on tax settlements and prosecutions. “No problem,” I replied.

In May 2006 at a Budget Estimates hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, Sherry put Michael D’Ascenzo to the blowtorch on tax prosecutions, which makes interesting reading:

SHERRY: Mr Bugg’s reference to high-profile persons: what characterises a high-profile person for these purposes?

D’ASCENZO: I think it takes its ordinary meaning of someone who is in the public eye. We talked about high-profile people previously in the high-wealth individual space.

SHERRY: It could be a sporting, media, political identity?

D’ASCENZO: It could be. I think anything that is likely to attract a lot of public attention is something that we would refer on to the DPP for decision, provided it falls within the guidelines that we think that there is a reasonable case to answer.

SHERRY: Where you are able to ascertain intentional disregard of the tax law and evasion of millions of dollars in tax, doesn’t that usually warrant prosecution?

D’ASCENZO: If you have evidence of that, that is the sort of case that would warrant prosecution.

It’s amazing how politicians can suddenly change when they get into government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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