Politicians, public service mandarins and journalists will all be on the cast of Paul Hogan’s next blockbuster; his $80 million dollar lawsuit against the federal government.

Crikey understands that Hogan intends to call a vast array of characters to testify in the court action including former Justice Minister Chris Ellison, former assistant treasurer Peter Dutton, tax commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo, Australian Crime Commission (ACC) CEO John Lawler and former ACC CEO Alastair Milroy.

Hogan is suing the government over the failed five-year tax investigation by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) into alleged tax evasion. The ACC spent $10 million chasing Hogan and his mate John “Strop” Cornell. The entertainment duo has spent an equal amount in legal fees to defend themselves in what was the biggest tax investigation case in Australia’s history.

Hogan believes he has incurred lost earnings between $10 million-$15 million per year because no one in business would touch him with a barge pole after his name was tarnished with accusations of being a tax cheat and a tax criminal. Hogan’s legal team have already secured a film producer and financier who are prepared to testify Hogan’s loss of income during the period of the investigation.

So why is Hoges suing the government? He believes as most Australians do that tax investigations should be conducted in private as is required by law to protect the privacy of individuals and others. What happened in his case was that government agencies leaked information to the media about his tax investigation. This resulted in a worldwide media frenzy that gave the impression he was a dodgy character who cheated on his taxes and could go to jail. Had there been no leaks Hogan would not be pursuing a record $80 million in compensation from the government.

Others to be called as witnesses will be frontline Wickenby investigators including plod Ian Andrews, who led the ACC investigation, and ATO Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Neill, who led the tax side of the investigation. The former Wickenby Head of Secrecy Jennifer Game, who raised concerns about breaches of secrecy between Wickenby investigators will be a crucial witness for Hogan.

She allegedly went straight to D’Ascenzo with allegations ATO officers illegally shared sensitive and highly secret information with the ACC and Australian Federal Police to help secure the high-profile scalps of Glenn Wheatley and Paul Hogan. Four other tax officers also complained and supported Game in trying desperately to protect the ATO’s sacred secrecy provisions and they also are expected to be called as witnesses. Game was later treated as persona-non-grata by the ATO.

Journalists John Garnaut of The Sydney Morning Herald and News Ltd’s Jennifer Sexton will also get an invite. In 2006 they were the two principal leakees of Wickenby information and battled it out like two gunslingers from the old west vying for front page stories on the best leak. Garnaut once confided in me he was worried the feds were tapping his phone. Not long after he accepted a position as the SMH’s China correspondent and has been there ever since.

In the latest development Hogan’s lawyer Andrew Robinson has lodged a formal written complaint with ACC CEO John Lawler about a leak to the US media regarding the ACC decision to drop charges against Hogan last November. Lawler has referred the complaint to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.

Robinson was informed of the ACC decision by letter personally delivered to his office by a process server on November 23 last year. He was made to open it, read it and date/time stamp the letter in front of the process server. However, a couple of hours earlier he was contacted by News Ltd New York journalists asking him whether he was aware the ACC had dropped the charges against his client.

“I’ve lodged a complaint with compelling evidence from three US-based journalists that they knew of the ACC decision before 7am AEST on the day in question.  The ACC investigation finished the same way it started — by a leak,” Robinson told Crikey today.

Peter Fray

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