The Australian Tax Office (ATO) is advanced in its analysis of the so-called Paradise Papers, a huge leak of documents dealing with international tax avoidance, seeking links to Australian companies and possible criminal action.
Records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) include information on 13.4 million offshore entities in tax havens.
The leak is bigger than the Panama Papers last year when 11.5 million documents became public and exposed links to Australian companies.
The latest documents show that US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, president Donald Trump’s point man on trade and manufacturing policy, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by the son-in-law of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
In Australia, the ATO has been trying to identify Australian clients of international law firm Appleby, based in Bermuda, where the leaked papers come from.
“I am confident the ATO is in a position to respond decisively to this data release,” says Mark Konza, the ATO’s deputy commissioner International.
The ATO has been working closely for several months with partner agencies here and overseas in anticipation of a data release by the ICIJ.
“These relationships have enabled the ATO to commence analysis of the intelligence received to identify possible Australian links,” says Konza.
In Australia, the ATO is working with the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Federal Police, and the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC.
The ATO says it is cross-checking data and will launch audits, apply significant tax penalties where appropriate and refer cases to the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce for criminal investigation.
“ATO intelligence on tax avoidance comes from a variety of sources, including from concerned citizens, advisers, partner agencies and international bodies,” says Konza.
“The data we are receiving from our international and domestic sources is comprehensive and current. This robust intelligence coupled with our powerful analytics capabilities, assists us to continue to tackle tax avoidance head-on.”
The ATO says it expects further data to be published by the ICIJ.
Internationally, the Joint International Taskforce on Shared Intelligence and Collaboration (JITSIC) is already collaborating. JITSIC brings together 37 national tax administrations that have committed to more effective and efficient ways to deal with tax avoidance.
“Given our early analysis of the data and the ability of the JITSIC member countries to come together quickly to build on each other’s intelligence holdings and insights, I am confident the ATO is in a position to respond decisively to this data release,” he says.
“We know and trust that most people do the right thing, and that many taxpayers identified as part of the leak will be meeting their Australian tax obligations.
“However, we investigate all leads and have the resources and expertise to take action against taxpayers or intermediaries found to be caught-up in the illegal use of offshore structures or providers.”