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'Ignorance’ unlikely defence in federal tax swoop

Contrary to the belief of some in the accounting community, tax evaders caught in the latest federal crackdown on tax evasion will struggle to plead ignorance, according to a mid-tier executive.

News Jotham Lian 05 April 2017
— 1 minute read

Hundreds of Australians with links to Swiss banking relationship managers alleged to have actively facilitated tax evasion schemes were identified by the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) on Monday.

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Chris Ball, BDO partner in charge of international tax affairs, believes the ATO will follow through with identifying these account holders and hold them accountable to both the tax and the crimes acts.

“There have been two previous amnesties for money in offshore accounts, so for individuals to still have not declared that income after two amnesties that provided them the opportunity to do so would be most unwise,” said Mr Ball.

“The thing that people don’t seem to realise is that not declaring income in these circumstances is, at its worst, defrauding the Commonwealth and there can be custodial penalties.

“I would have thought given the publicity regarding offshore holding, the sophistication with which these accounts are set up, it is then unlikely that ignorance is going to be a very good defence.”

Of the 346 Australians identified, 23 have already come forward under the ATO’s previous amnesty Project DO IT or have been previously subject to ATO compliance action.

“The fact that these accounts are unnamed means that by their very nature they are likely to have been established to hide the identity of the owner,” said Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer.

“Taskforce agencies are working through their intelligence to determine the taxpayers in this group who have done the right thing, and those who have been concealing the true nature of their tax affairs,” she said.

Mr Ball conceded that accountants can only do as much as the amount of information provided to them and are often left in the dark about offshore accounts.

However, he stressed that those who were aware should encourage their clients to disclose those accounts or risk further backlash.

“Australia, unlike some other jurisdictions in the world, [their] residents are subject to tax on their worldwide source of income,” said Mr Ball.

“Not paying tax on money that you’ve had sitting or derived in a bank account offshore can be treated in the law in Australia in the same way as being stolen from a third party.”

'Ignorance’ unlikely defence in federal tax swoop
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Jotham Lian

Jotham Lian

Jotham Lian is the editor of Accountants Daily, the leading source of breaking news, analysis and insight for Australian accounting professionals.

Before joining the team in 2017, Jotham wrote for a range of national mastheads including the Sydney Morning Herald, and Channel NewsAsia.

You can email Jotham at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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