Contributed by Joe Montero
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), has just been executed warrants, as part of an ongoing joint investigation by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and AFP into a syndicate arrangement, alleged to be involved in tax fraud activity and organised crime.
Deputy ATO Commissioner, Michael Cranston has been served with one of the warrants, involving a court attendance notice for 13 June. The indication is that specific charges may be laid. His son, Adam Cranston, has been arrested and charged over alleged involvement in the stealing of $165 million from the Commonwealth. Michael Cranston’s daughter, Lauren, was also arrested and charged.
In all, nine people were arrested and charged in 28 police raids.
The others are Dev Menon, ax lawyer and partner at Sydney law firm Clamenz lawyers and previously of KPMG; Jason Onley, one of Adam Cranston’s business partners and a director of Synep. He is also a former sports commentator who has worked with Channel Nine and Foxtel; Simon Anquetil, and former chairman and CEO of Plutus; Daniel Rostankovski, who is alleged to have recruited and managed “straw directors,” to transfer cash that should have gone to the ATO. He is said to have eventually turned on the others and tried to extort money from them; and Dan Hausman, a former director of Plutus’ and director of the company’s sole shareholder, Synep.
Two other ATO employees face a forensic examination. In the meantime, they have been suspended without pay.
Under investigation is intervention to influence audits, money that has been refunded and tax liability being changed. There is a question mark over whether those involved have received unlawful payments.
Michael Cranston has been employed by the ATO for more than three decades and is involved in the organisation’s private groups and high-wealth segment and this puts in in a good position to have access to useful information that can be used by himself or others.
The charges connected to the warrants relate to specific events that date only back to 2016 and the ongoing investigation is said to now be focusing on whether it goes further back, and the conceivable possibility that it involves more people.
Despite the mountain of evidence already at hand, the ATO and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull are failing to consider that the case has wider implications. Instead, they are assuring the public that the system is working properly. Treasurer Scott Morrison has gone so far as to insist that the investigation and warrants proves that the government is out to get crooks.
But for those of us living in the real world, the scale of this crime, the fact that it could be carried out and that it may yet prove to be bigger still, suggests that the operation of the whole tax system needs a thorough investigation.
Experts have said that this conspiracy is not an isolated incident.
One of them, Chris Wallis, a Victorian barrister of 30 years standing, said he had personal experience with the ATO that involved certain officers illegally accessing information. He said the Cranston affair was “not isolatable”.
“Practitioners know that illegally accessing information in the ATO is not uncommon…The stain may be far wider within the ATO,” he said.
If the government continues to fail to act decisively, to launch a major and much more far reaching investigation into the extent of organised crime and its connection to the tax system, it will undoubtedly undermine the credibility of the ATO, and once again, show the government’s reluctance to uncover and punish large scale wrongdoers. The message it will give out is that money talks.