The Wickenby brand has been diminished in the light of the Australian Crime Commission’s (ACC) back-flip this week in calling a halt to the criminal investigation of Paul Hogan and John Cornell. I’ve decided to turn the tables on the organisation today and conduct my own special examination into the secretive government law enforcement agency some have labeled a “star chamber”.

Despite a long and exhaustive analysis over five years investigating the entertainment duo — involving raids on business premises and private homes, telephone taps, seizure of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, interviewing anyone who had a business association with the them, secret interrogations and delving into the resources of five other Wickenby partners such as the tax office and Federal Police as well as support from the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Government Solicitor — they couldn’t find one skerrick of evidence against the pair.

As recent as August 17, ACC lawyers were telling a Federal Court judge they were gearing up to lay criminal charges. Something happened in the next three months that changed their mind. The ACC admitted this week it never sent a brief of evidence to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who is responsible for bringing prosecutions on behalf of the Commonwealth. My translation: The case was so weak they wouldn’t embarrass themselves by sending a brief to the DPP and having it thrown back in their faces.

My tax office sources reveal that the ATO’s action in preventing Hogan departing Australia by serving him a Departure Prohibition Order in August was a last desperate bid by the Wickenby partners to try and harass Hogan into backing down in his fight against the government. The ACC knew at that time it didn’t have the goods to snare Hogan. The tax office finally relented and let Hogan return to his wife and young son in America after a media frenzy turned against the ATO.

The sour grapes expressed in the ACC’s media release this week did not reflect well on the organisation.  It said, inter alia:

The delay in resolving this long running investigation hinges on the international complexity of the structures put in place by those who are the subject of the investigation and a clear strategy by those being investigated to legally challenge the ACC’s attempt to establish the facts in the case.

Are they suggesting it got too hard for them and that’s why they bailed? And aren’t people they are trying to send to jail allowed to litigate to protect themselves? Let’s examine the ACC’s history with Wickenby:

  • They have lost a couple of court challenges against Wickenby suspects as well as paying the legal bills of Hogan and one other suspect. Reports today in the media suggest they spent $10 million dollars of taxpayer’s funds trying to snare Hogan and Cornell.
  • On one occasion former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock bailed the ACC out of trouble by introducing retrospective legislation to ensure the validity of their summonses to Wickenby suspects.
  • They also fought Hogan in court for two years to get access to 35 documents they later conceded were “irrelevant”.
  • Federal Court Justice Arthur Emmett criticised them for not having policies and procedures in place to deal with Legal Professional Privilege in their complex Wickenby investigations.
  • 60 people have been charged with criminal offences under Wickenby but only 13 of these are as a result of ACC investigations. Forty-seven people were charged by the AFP. The Glenn Wheatley case was done by the AFP.
  • They were responsible, along with the ATO, for the criminal leaking of the personal tax affairs of Hogan, Cornell and others involved in the Wickenby Investigation. This was confirmed when the ATO’s Director of Secrecy and four other high-ranking officers complained to Michael D’Ascenzo that the tax office had unlawfully provided sensitive tax information to their colleagues in the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission as part of the Wickenby investigation.

When the ACC established in 2002 by the Howard government to fulfill the role undertaken by its equally secret predecessor, the National Crime Authority it became involved in everything from abuse in indigenous communities, bikie gangs and illicit drugs. It now wants to get itself involved in serious tax fraud but you have to wonder after this week whether they can cut the mustard.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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