Foreign investors who admit to illegal purchases could still face jail terms

Treasurer Joe Hockey. Photo: Getty Images

Foreign investors who come forward about illegally purchasing Australian real estate could still be charged for money laundering and face jail terms of two years.

Earlier this year, the federal government took a harder line on those who breached foreign investment rules with the introduction of increased fines of $127,500, three years imprisonment and up to $637,000 for companies.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said foreign buyers had until November 30 to come forward with their illegal purchases, which would normally carry penalties of up to two years in jail under the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Act.

“They will be forced to sell their properties but they will not be subject to criminal prosecution by the Commonwealth government,” Hockey said in a joint press conference with prime minister Tony Abbott.

Fairfax reports reveal that the promise of “amnesty” by Hockey is not binding and foreign buyers can still face charges of money laundering as well as have their funds from the home sale seized as proceeds of crime even if they turn themselves in before November 30.

The policy throws issues of fairness into the question especially after Hockey ordered the sale of six residential properties — ranging in value from $152,000 to $1.86 million — just last week.

The properties purchased were in breach of foreign investment guidelines with all five investors being forced sell their properties in the next 12 months instead of the normal three-month period.

Since transferring responsibility to the Australian Taxation Office for residential real estate data in May, 2,000 pieces of information relating to suspected breaches have been uncovered through third party sources.

The ATO is currently investigating 462 cases with Hockey saying he expects “more divestment orders will be announced in the not too distant future” warning “foreign investors in residential real estate that they must comply with Australian law”.

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