The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has secured its first criminal conviction for JobKeeper fraud, after a man was found guilty of falsely claiming he was a sole trader in order to receive the coronavirus wage subsidy.
The Melbourne man was convicted in the Heidelberg Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday for three counts of making a false and misleading statement to the ATO.
He was fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $3,000 in compensation and $282 in costs.
The man lodged two JobKeeper applications that claimed he was a sole trader who experienced a downturn of at least 30% in turnover in May and June.
However, the Magistrates’ Court found he was not operating a genuine business and had full-time employment.
While the man tried to claim $6,000 in the wage subsidy, he only received $3,000 from his first application, before his second claim was picked up by the ATO for investigation.
Before the court, the Melbourne man pleaded guilty to all three counts of making a false and misleading statement to the ATO.
The man said he had already disclosed to the ATO that he had not been carrying on a business as a sole trader, but had agreed to be nominated as an employee with his full-time employer.
ATO deputy commissioner Will Day supported the conviction, saying the tax office has an important role to ensure JobKeeper payments were paid out in line with the scheme’s intended purpose and were not exploited by members of the community.
“Since the first payments were made in April, the ATO has monitored every payment, every day, every month, and will continue to do so until the last payment is made,” Day said in a statement.
“We know most people are honest, and we work with employers to overcome genuine mistakes. However, as this case demonstrates, where people deliberately seek to exploit the stimulus measures, we will put a stop to it and apply the full force of the law.”
The coronavirus wage subsidy is currently under review by the Australian National Audit Office, which is examining whether the ATO effectively administered the scheme.
Since JobKeeper began last year, the ATO has paid $84 billion in payments to over 1 million businesses, and has recovered $150 million in JobKeeper payments from employers who made deliberate mistakes when applying for the subsidy.