Australia to get Serious Financial Crime Taskforce    

Australia's Treasurer Joe Hockey today announced a new permanent body to be called the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) would replace the existing multi-agency Project Wickenby offshore tax evasion task force.

The new SFCT will undertake "...investigations and prosecutions that will address superannuation and investment fraud, identity crime and tax evasion". The Government has committed A$127.6 million for SFCT operations for the 2015-2019 fiscal years. It will include "...the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Federal Police, Attorney-General's Department, Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions and Australian Customs and Border Protection Services".

Although no specific inquiry powers have yet been mooted for the SFCT, the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Crime Commission already have extensive inquisitorial powers that over-ride common law privileges against self-incrimination. Together, these agencies also benefit from a wide range of information gathering capabilities including Australia's extensive international information sharing agreement network.

It is noteworthy that in his announcement, the Treasurer specifically stated, "This type of crime poses a genuine threat to national security". This comment raises the prospect of the task force possibly having access to the resources of Australia's various security agencies (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Secret Intelligence Service and Australian Signals Directorate).

International advisors dealing with financial transactions (including tax planning) involving Australian individuals and entities will certainly need to be very aware of their "know your client" obligations. The establishment of the SFCT 'ups the ante' on ensuring that all financial and tax planning should be able to withstand close judicial scrutiny. Having top-level multi-disciplinary advisory teams in place would now seem to be essential.

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