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Tax evasion inquiry gets results

Australia's biggest ever tax evasion inquiry is starting to get results, with the tax office revealing it has recouped more than $3 million in outstanding tax.

Operation Wickenby, a $300 million multi-authority investigation including the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) and the Australian Taxation Office, is investigating a range of schemes aimed at tax avoidance and minimisation.

Tax commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo revealed in the office's annual tax compliance program that Wickenby swept through another 27 premises across the country as part of its investigation into serious tax evasion and fraud.

Mostly used by high income and high profile individuals, the various Wickenby schemes rely on the use of tax havens to minimise or completely avoid tax.

Three people have so far been charged in relation to the Wickenby investigation.

But the tax office has now revealed it is also starting to reap previously unpaid tax.

So far, two tax settlements have been reached. In one of those settlements, $3.2 million was paid to cover outstanding tax and penalties.

The tax office has had 18 voluntary disclosures about people involved in Wickenby-related inquiries.

And in one case, the spouse of a taxpayer under criminal investigation lodged a return declaring capital gains derived from shares involved in Wickenby activities. The outstanding tax payable on that return is $716,000.

The tax office also revealed it conducted 27 unannounced visits on sites across the country on June 21.

That's on top of a sweep last year by the tax office and ACC when they executed 48 search warrants in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

So far $7.4 million had been spent on Wickenby, although $305 million has been set aside over six years.

Thirty-eight people are being investigated by the crime commission, covering nine potentially criminal matters.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Peter Costello on Thursday released a discussion paper that will canvass a standardised approach to secrecy and provision of information between official agencies.

Mr Costello said the discussion paper would look at different rules governing the sharing of information across 30 separate tax acts.

He said this would be of use to the various agencies working on Wickenby-related investigations.

"(It is) proposing to standardise them in a way which will clarify the operation of the provisions and provide increased certainty for taxpayers and tax officials," he said.

"This is part of a program which is continuing to simplify the operation of Australia's taxation laws.

"(Wickenby) is an investigation into international tax evasion which this government will not countenance and which if it were left unchecked would undermine the Australian taxation system."

The discussion paper's main proposal is to introduce a single piece of legislation covering tax law secrecy and disclosure provisions.

That legislation would clearly describe what information is to be protected, and identify who that protected information can be shared with and in what circumstances.

It would also result in a uniform system of penalties for breaching tax secrecy laws.

August 17, 2006, AAP


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