Prominent Australians including captains of industry, politicians, philanthropists, developers, lawyers, accountants, criminals and entrepreneurs are set to become embroiled in one of the nation’s most explosive tax investigations into offshore structures.
This follows the leaking of data to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based in Washington.
Its stories have had worldwide ramifications and embarrassed business leaders and politicians around the globe.
Now a Saturday Age investigation has revealed that more than 500 Australians feature in the 2.5 million documents.
The documents were leaked independently to tax authorities here and in Britain and the United States, which together have already launched investigations in what might become the biggest international tax probe in history.
The leaks stem from two overseas wealth management companies – Commonwealth Trust Ltd in the British Virgin Islands and Portcullis TrustNet, an Asian-based company offering services in tax havens stretching from the Cook Islands to the Seychelles.
Project Wickenby – a multi-agency taskforce comprising the Australian Crime Commission, the Federal Police and the Tax Office – will handle some of the fresh investigations.
Greg Williams, the Tax Office’s deputy commissioner, serious non-compliance, said: ”The people who are involved in this, it is not the man in the street. It is not the average salary and wage earner. It is people who are wealthy enough to make this behaviour potentially worthwhile for them.”
The Tax Office has confirmed two individuals are already the target of a criminal investigation, and it has requested information and documents from at least 40 other people.
The Saturday Age is not suggesting all the Australians who appear in the offshore data and which it has named have been involved in illegality as taxpayers can hold offshore accounts for a number of legitimate reasons, such as facilitating international business transactions.
Among the prominent Australians with offshore companies are David Mortimer, former chairman of Leighton Holdings and Australia Post and former chief executive of TNT.
Celebrated chef Tetsuya Wakuda and Melbourne mining supremo Owen Hegarty have each had companies in the British Virgin Islands, while philanthropist Janet Holmes a Court, once Australia’s richest woman, has previously had a company in the Cook Islands.
A web of offshore structures was also employed by Tim Johnston and other directors of Firepower, which fleeced investors of $100 million with the false promise of a pill that would reduce cars’ fuel consumption.
The documents show corporate criminal Tony Senese incorporated a company in the Cook Islands shortly before being jailed in Melbourne for seven years on 25 charges of false accounting.
Justin Breheny, an executive with insurance giant IAG, used his British Virgin Islands company to buy shares in an unknown company, while Sydney businessman Colin Sim also had interests in offshore companies.
Jefferson and Aileen Cheng, who had criminal charges against them dropped over the construction of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal in the Philippines, also had a complex web of offshore companies.
Colourful businessman Karl Kazal confirmed he set up two offshore companies to handle distribution of hospital equipment from the United Arab Emirates, but said the offshore accounts were never operational.
A West Australian organised crime figure, who cannot be named because he is about to face trial over a major drug importation, is on the list, along with white-collar criminal Tony Senese and Michael Milne, who is serving an 8-year jail term for money laundering and dealing with the proceeds of crime.
The Sydney businessman was one of the initial targets of Project Wickenby.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.