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Australian Authorities Continue Offshore Tax Crackdown

by Mary Swire,, Hong Kong

01 November 2005

The ongoing investigation into undeclared offshore income by the Australian Tax Office has snared an additional 187 suspects, ten of whom are facing criminal charges, according to a report in the Australian media.

The new suspects were uncovered as part of a comprehensive probe by the ATO and the Australian Crime Commission earlier in the year which identified 511 cases of offshore tax avoidance and fraud. The 187 new cases were pinpointed using data from Austrac, which monitors money flows entering and leaving Australia, The Australian newspaper reported.

The Australian Crime Commission, which is working with the ATO on offshore cases, recently said it had raided 85 homes in four states in connection with the offshore tax investigation, issuing 48 warrants in respect of suspected tax evasion.

The Commission has also interrogated a number of prominent Australian figures, but has been attacked in court as behaving unconstitutionally, and is battling more than a dozen Federal Court challenges across four states, including some from individuals who allegedly failed to pay tax on film royalties received from the US via tax haven bank accounts.

Nonetheless, on the eve of the October 31 tax filing deadline, ATO Commissioner Michael Carmody, warned that the crusade against tax avoidance is set to continue, with the authorities training their sights on high profile business people, bosses of "major corporations" and sportspeople.

The ATO is also intensifying its enforcement effort against members of the legal profession, including barristers, magistrates and judges, who have been the subject of previous "successful" crackdowns on tax avoidance and late filing, according to Carmody.

"We are currently taking prosecution action against 27 of the more egregious barristers," the Commissioner stated.

"We will continue to vigorously pursue the lodgment of all outstanding returns from legal professionals, including barristers, solicitors, judges and magistrates," Carmody added.

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