The Tax Office’s recent investigations into offshore secret accounts is “just the tip of the iceberg”, according to a big four firm who has seen a rise in advice enquiries.
‘Uptick in enquiries and nervousness’: ATO investigations spark fear
Last week, the ATO announced it had begun contacting 106 Australians who are suspected of utilising tax evasion schemes through holding unnamed numbered Swiss bank accounts.
In working with AUSTRAC, the ATO identified 106 taxpayers who have had 5,000 cross-border transactions worth over $900 million in the past 10 years.
KPMG partner Sarah Blakelock told Accountants Daily that while she has seen a rise in enquiries from taxpayers on advice in dealing with the ATO in such circumstances, there has been hesitation in coming forward
“I think the Credit Suisse situation is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Ms Blakelock.
“I've seen an uptick in enquiries and nervousness in coming forward but I think our response to that is that it is most important that people get advice but advice that is tailored to their particular position.
“The thing that is really important is that if people find themselves in this situation that they act early.”
With the Common Reporting Standard’s first lodgement deadline due 31 July 2018 and ATO commissioner Chris Jordan directly leading the $679 million funded tax avoidance taskforce, Ms Blakelock believes time is running out for tax evaders.
“[The ATO] were reluctant to engage with us and reluctant to openly speak about it which tends to make me think that they've got a number of covert audits on foot which is not an unusual situation in these circumstances,” said Ms Blakelock.
“It is not unusual in these circumstances for the ATO to undertake covert audits and refer clients to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).”
Further, Ms Blakelock said that the ATO is still accepting voluntary disclosures, which may reduce penalties and see clients less likely to be referred to criminal prosecution, but believes accountants should recommend legal advice to their clients if they are unsure.
“For accountants, because they get accountants' concession but they don't get legal professional privilege, they might want to get their clients to seek assistance from legal advice for the best way to respond and engage with the ATO,” said Ms Blakelock.
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