Operation Wickenby snares mastermind behind international tax scam

The Wickenby tax operation has secured a guilty plea from one of the key players claimed to be the architect of a complex international tax scam.

Accountant Philip Eric de Figueiredo has pleaded guilty to three charges of conspiring to defrauding the Commonwealth between 1999 and 2005 following an investigation by the multi-agency task force led by the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

Operation Wickenby is aimed at hunting down taxpayers using tax havens to avoid paying tax,

De Figueiredo faces a potential sentence of 10 years’ jail for each of the three counts when he is sentenced by the Queensland Supreme Court in March, but he avoided a potential 25-year term when authorities dropped a money-laundering charge against him late last month.

The Australian reports that prosecutors were preparing for a lengthy trial after the 60-year-old millionaire and principal of the Swiss-based accountancy firm Strachans fought his extradition from Jersey, in the Channel Islands, for almost two years, until he was brought to Australia on Christmas Day in 2010.

De Figueiredo has been on bail in a luxury riverside apartment in inner Brisbane.

His confession is good news for Operation Wickenby which has been given additional hundreds of millions of dollars in funding over the past two years to help track down evaders and recover over $1 billion in lost revenue.

In this year’s federal budget the ATO shared in a further $76.8 million in funding to step up Operation Wickenby. Its highest profile prosecution to date was in relation to actor Paul Hogan.

However, the operation was dealt a blow earlier this year when two targets, former Gadens Lawyers employees Ross Edward Seller and Patrick David McCarthy, walked away from prosecution after it was found their trial had been mishandled by authorities.

The pair had been charged in March this year over ties to an alleged tax fraud, which involved a whisky company and links to de Figueiredo’s firm Strachans.

De Figueiredo had been due to face trial in the Queensland Supreme Court this week on three charges but the crown discharged one of those, a money-laundering offence, when he pleaded guilty to the others.

The Supreme Court confirmed to SmartCompany that the trial has now been delisted and de Figueiredo will face a “contested sentencing” before Justice Mullens on March 5 and 6 next year.



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