ATO to investigate Pandora Papers as calls grow for tax evasion crackdown

The Australian Tax Office has warned of "serious consequences" for Australians who are found to have cheated the system.

Labor's spokesperson on financial services, Stephen Jones, has called for tax evasion laws to be strengthened.

Labor's spokesperson on financial services, Stephen Jones, has called for tax evasion laws to be strengthened. Source: AAP

The Australian Tax Office says it will investigate data from the recently released Pandora Papers for any Australian links to illegal tax evasion and wrongdoing.

Overnight, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a document dump of 11.9 million files, amounting to 2.94 terabytes of data, that exposed the offshore tax arrangements of prominent politicians, billionaires and celebrities.

The group says individuals from more than 200 countries and territories have been implicated in the leak.

More than 330 politicians were named in the release of documents detailing the arrangements in secretive jurisdictions to acquire real estate, stash money and own other companies.

The Guardian has reported more than 400 Australians were named in the data leak.

ATO deputy commissioner Will Day said there are legitimate reasons Australians may have for offshore bank accounts.

He stressed that being included in a data leak does not indicate evidence of tax evasion or a crime.

But he warned the agency would take a hard line on anyone found to have rorted the system.

"The message is clear for those who try to cheat the system: your secrets are no longer safe, and you can expect to feel serious consequences for your actions. No complicated money trail is too difficult for us to unravel," Mr Day said.

Mr Day described the information from the papers as "interesting" but said the ATO does not solely rely on data leaks to conduct its job.

"We are well connected locally and globally in our efforts to fight financial crime. We will certainly look at this data set and compare it with the data we already have to identify any potential connections," he said.

"We have some of the best auditors, investigators, analysts and data scientists in the world who work together to sort the good from the bad, ensuring no stone is left unturned."

The ATO is a member of the Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration, an international grouping of agencies to help fight global tax evasion.

Calls for tougher laws

The release of the Pandora Papers has been met with renewed calls for tough legislation to crack down on tax evasion in Australia.

Labor’s financial services spokesperson, Steven Jones, labelled the revelations contained in the leak as "explosive".

"Tax avoidance is a crime, and these are not victimless crimes," he told SBS News.

"For every dollar that isn't paid by a corporate titan, or a politician, that's an extra dollar that Australian families have to pay."

He said Labor was willing to work with the government to give the ATO adequate resources to crack down on financial misbehaviour.

"We want to see the government to use the same vigour as cracking down on Robodebt - so the tax office has to have the resources," he said.

Mr Jones also urged the government to strengthen transparency laws "so Australians can see who is paying the tax and who is avoiding it". 

Responding to the data leak, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his government is committed to increasing transparency.

Greens leader Adam Bandt at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Source: AAP

Greens leader Adam Bandt slammed the current laws as weak, making the country "a magnet for people who want to avoid paying tax". 

"There are loopholes in Australia's laws that mean accountants and real estate agents and lawyers aren't subject to the same kind of financial scrutiny that professionals in other countries are," he told reporters.

"We need to close these loopholes and put in place a billionaires' tax that works, [and] that can't be avoided through dodgy offshore transactions."

Published 4 October 2021 at 5:43pm, updated 4 October 2021 at 5:46pm
By Naveen Razik, Anna Henderson
Source: SBS News