ATO asks tax dodgers to own up, declaring the ‘tax haven’ is dying

The Australian Taxation Office is urging all taxpayers to declare their offshore income to avoid harsh penalties, as part of the ATO’s crackdown on multinational tax avoidance schemes.

The Tax Office has labelled the initiative ‘Project DO IT’, a “last chance” opportunity to come clean about tax avoidance, as it aims to bring billions of dollars back into Australia’s tax system.

In a speech to the Tax Institute of Australia’s National Convention on Wednesday, Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan said taking part in this initiative will allow people to “avoid steep penalties and the risk of criminal prosecution”.

“As governments around the world step up their data sharing and harness powerful technology to find tax cheats, the concept of the ‘tax haven’ is dying. It’s just a matter of time before you’ll be caught,” he said.

“If you’ve got international tax liabilities, act now and come forward and we’ll bring you back into the system with a heavily reduced penalty. If you don’t declare your interests, you’ll be caught and penalised.”

SmartCompany reported a possible amnesty for tax dodgers earlier this year when it was still being developed.

The amnesty will be open to taxpayers until December 19 this year and stipulates owed tax will be limited to offshore income and assets in the last four years.

People who come forward will also be liable for a shortfall penalty of 10% and for low-level disclosure there will only be minimal penalties, if any.

Eligible taxpayers will also be able to seek assurance regarding the ATO’s tax treatment of repatriated offshore assets and be able to enter a settlement deed to obtain additional certainty.

However, taxpayers will not be entitled to any losses that arose in years prior to the four years in which they will be assessed.

Thomson Reuters tax expert Terry Hayes previously told SmartCompany similar amnesty initiatives have been successful.

“By and large they have been effective. They have been tried in other countries and the rationale is to get people on the books,” he says.

“People come forward and declare their hidden accounts and then the tax authority gives them a concession. They’re then back on the books and the Tax Office can keep tabs on them going forward. They don’t catch everyone, they never do, but it does give people a chance to own up.”

Hayes says amnesties have been used in the United States, Italy, Britain and other countries across Europe.

“Over time their success is quantifiable. It will bring in extra revenue and get people back on the system, although it’s never guaranteed,” he says.

“For the ATO it’s a matter of cost-benefit analysis. The cost of chasing these offshore assets is really high, both in time and cost of having investigators and lawyers chasing these people.”

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