Panama Papers-linked Australians on the hook after ATO raids

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Following raids this week by the Australian Taxation Office, wealthy Australians, their lawyers and accountants linked to the Panama Papers may soon be facing criminal charges.

The Panama Papers are 11.5 million documents, leaked by a whistle-blower, from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the Papers this April which revealed details of more than 214,000 offshore entities.

All up 1000 taxpayers are under ATO investigation with up to 60 clients of six accountants contacted by authorities this week alone, a report from The Sydney Morning Herald revealed.

The Serious ­Financial Crime Taskforce, which is operated by the ATO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), has already executed search warrants.

Revenue and Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer said on Tuesday that the taskforce had already made unannounced visits in about 15 properties in Victoria and Queensland for suspected crimes involving money laundering and criminal activity.

The taskforce involved more than 100 ATO officials and more than 100 taxpayers have already been notified that they will be subjects of compliance action, O'Dwyer revealed.

“The information has revealed significant taxation evasion arrangements that promoters have put in place for their clients,” the minister is quoted saying.

“Some are very, very complex and have multiple layers of offshore entities, fake shareholders, and other methods to disguise the ultimate owners of these accounts and of these funds.”

She also said that the taskforce has already raised $130 million in liabilities and made four prosecutions stemming from more than 300 audits.

Meanwhile, Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan gave a stern warning to taxpayers who stand to be convicted of crimes.

“It's important to note that tax fraud won't just result in the outstanding tax and penalties to be repaid, but may result in criminal charges,” he said.

“The impact of a criminal conviction can have lasting impacts on those involved, including removal as a trustee of a self-managed super fund and becoming a director of a company, restrictions on international travel and difficulties obtaining finance and insurance,” he added.

AUSTRAC has already detected $2.5b in suspicious cross-border funds movements between Australia and other countries by more than 1,000 Australian entities linked to the Panama Papers, the publication noted.

The investigations come after Project Wickenby which resulted in $2 billion in liabilities and 47 prosecutions in six years.
 

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