Australia Launches a new Taskforce for financial crimes

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Australia’s new Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) is ready to launch investigations into serious international tax evasion  over the next two years.

The SFCT has been operational since July 1 and, as of October 14, there are eight matters under investigation. More than 580 tax audits have been instigated and more than AUD85m (USD61.7m) in liabilities have been raised since the taskforce began its work. The Government has committed AUD127.6m over four years to fund the SFCT.

Kelly O’Dwyer and Justice Minister Michael Keenan, in a joint statement,  said: “Key operational priorities for the taskforce over the first two years will include investigations into serious international tax evasion and criminality related to trusts and phoenix activity – when companies deliberately and repeatedly liquidate to avoid paying creditors, employee entitlements, and taxes. Building on the lessons of Project Wickenby, the taskforce is closing the net on those who are looking to seriously attack the fairness of our tax system.”

Project Wickenby concluded in June. It resulted in the conviction and sentencing of 46 individuals for serious tax avoidance offences. It raised more than AUD2.29bn in liabilities, and more than AUD985m in outstanding revenue. It focused on offshore tax evasion and crime.

The SFCT will have a broader remit than Wickenby. The aim is to “target emerging high-priority risks including the growing use of technology by professional money laundering syndicates and the increasing trend of sophisticated, organized crime groups targeting the Australian financial sector,” the ministers explained.

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“Criminal syndicates that exploit the Australian taxation system and defraud everyday Australians are increasingly using complex and sophisticated organizational structures, making them less recognizable and harder to detect,” they added.

The SFCT is led by the Australian Federal Police, and includes representatives from the Australian Taxation Office the Australian Crime Commission, the Attorney-General’s Department, AUSTRAC, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and the Australian Border Force.

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