Australian Tax Official in $123 Million Tax Fraud Syndicate

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By Murray Griffin

A senior Australian tax official has been caught up in an investigation into an alleged A$165 million ($123 million) tax fraud syndicate involving his son.

The Australian Federal Police May 18 announced it had arrested nine people for their involvement in the syndicate. They face charges for offenses ranging from conspiracy to defraud to dealing with the proceeds of crime and using menace to obtain a gain.

Assets seized in raids of various properties included at least A$15 million in cash, two aircraft, 25 cars, 18 homes, 12 motorbikes and more than 100 bank accounts and share trading accounts.

The Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner for private groups and high wealth individuals, Michael Cranston, has been charged with abusing his position as a public officer by inappropriately accessing information from ATO systems.

The offense carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

His son, Adam Cranston, among nine arrested, faces a charge of conspiracy to defraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

However, the AFP said Michael Cranston appears to have sought to access information for his son, not knowing of the alleged fraud.

“We don’t believe at this point that he had any knowledge of the conspiracy and defrauding,” AFP deputy commissioner Leanne Close told a media conference in Sydney. “It appears that the son has asked him to access information.”

Nor have investigations to date revealed any evidence of intervention or influence on audit cases, acting ATO Commissioner Andrew Mills said in a May 18 statement.

Cranston has had a long career at the ATO and in October 2015 joined government ministers to help launch the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce in Canberra.

Alleged Payroll Tax Fraud

The alleged fraud involving his son was conducted through a payroll company and other businesses that were subcontracted to it.

Through this arrangement, a percentage of the pay-as-you-go income tax installments that should have been paid to the ATO were instead diverted elsewhere.

The investigation and arrests involved hundreds of AFP officers, working with the assistance of the ATO.

Three other ATO officials have been stood down pending an investigation into whether, at Michael Cranston’s request, they attempted to access unauthorized information in breach of the tax administration’s code of conduct.

The AFP’s investigation relates to activities dating back to June 2016, but might be extended further back once it has properly reviewed the evidence it has seized.

To contact the reporter on this story: Murray Griffin in Melbourne at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Penny Sukhraj at psukhraj@bna.com

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