A 60-year-old man has been sentenced to six years’ jail for his role in an “intricate tax evasion” scheme that stripped companies of their assets to avoid paying tax.
Handed down by the District Court of Queensland in Brisbane, the sentence brings an end to a marathon 19-year-long joint investigation by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP), which recovered almost $4.5 million in lost tax revenue.
Authorities have now prosecuted five people in connection with the phoenix scheme, which was designed to allow companies to transfer away all their assets, leaving what the ATO described as an “empty shell” unable to pay its tax debts.
It was alleged that once the fraudsters had stripped the company of assets, new straw directors and shareholders were put in to wind up the company, leaving the entities with no basis to pay any tax they owed.
“This arrangement was set up to deliberately evade paying tax, which is money that could have otherwise been used to fund vital public services that the community relies upon,” ATO assistant commissioner Aislinn Walwyn said in a statement.
The ATO initially commenced an audit into the practices all the way back in April 2000 after receiving a tip-off from a tax agent.
It then referred the matter to the AFP in December of that year, which in turn led to a criminal investigation commencing in early-2001.
The most recently sentenced offender was arrested in 2018 attempting to re-enter Australia after living abroad for a number of years, having had a warrant for his arrest issued in 2008.
AFP assistant commissioner Lesa Gale said tax fraud can make for a “complex investigation”.
“The AFP remains up to the challenge and is grateful for the specialist expertise of our partners through the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce that allows investigators to investigate these matters thoroughly and effectively present these matters before the courts,” Gale said in a statement, circulated by the tax office.