Project Wickenby Tax Evasion Taskforce to be permanent?

Sid Maher of the Australian Newspaper reports (28 April 2015) that the Australian Government “...plans to permanently extend the powers behind the controversial Project Wickenby”. 

Project Wickenby is an investigatory taskforce of eight government agencies (including the Australian Taxation Office, National Crime Commission and Australian Federal Police) that has focused on arrangements considered to involve offshore tax evasion utilising what are referred to as “secrecy havens”. 

The Project has already been running for almost 9 years, raising approximately A$2 billion in additional tax liabilities, at a cost of approximately A$0.5 billion. So far, 74 people have been charged with criminal offences and Australian courts have convicted 44 (some have received severe goal terms, including for ‘money laundering').

It is understood that a large proportion of the evasion schemes targeted by Wickenby were administered and/or promoted by particular firms in the Channel Islands and Vanuatu, respectively. Such information as is available about the structure of the schemes indicates that the ‘planning’ involved was somewhat simplistic and may have relied primarily upon non-disclosure.

In the digital age, non-disclosure is not a viable alternative because governments can readily follow the money trail left when people seek to access funds ‘sheltered’ by such schemes. The Project Wickenby taskforce includes the resources of the Government’s Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), an anti-money laundering and special financial intelligence unit.

Genuine international tax and estate planning requires sophistication and probity. The client (and their advisors) need to be comfortable sitting in a courtroom and stating, “...yes, this is the way the arrangement is structured and this is why it is legitimate”.

There is no such thing as a cheap and simple international tax shelter. If a proposal looks too good to be true, it generally is!

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