Panama Papers 2 is coming: ICIJ could release Australian links to Bermuda law firm Abbleby

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The Australian Taxation Office is aware investigative journalists are scrutinising the clients of Bermuda-based law firm Appleby, and are bracing themselves for what may be a second Panama Papers-style leak.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has approached the firm with allegations of wrongdoing, which the firm strongly denies. The firm admitted that some client data had been stolen in a cyber attack last year. 

Investigative journalists are scrutinising the clients of Bermuda-based law firm Appleby but the firm denies any wrongdoing. Investigative journalists are scrutinising the clients of Bermuda-based law firm Appleby but the firm denies any wrongdoing. Photo: Reuters

The Serious Financial Crime Taskforce, which includes major government agencies including the Australian Taxation Office, has since July 2015 raised more than $400 million in liabilities from 614 audits and reviews and collected more than $164 million in cash collections.

In the past financial year, it raised more than $258 million in liabilities and collected $126 million in cash. 

ATO deputy commissioners Jeremy Hirschhorn and Mark Konza. ATO deputy commissioners Jeremy Hirschhorn and Mark Konza. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

One of the taskforce’s most high-profile investigations into the first Panama Papers leaks – 11.5 million documents were leaked from law firm Mossack Fonseca – identified 1200 Australians of interest.

The ATO told Senate Estimates it raised about $50 million worth of liabilities from this investigation, and a further $40 million worth of income would now being counted.

About 600 of those had already either come forward through the ATO’s 2014 tax amnesty known as Project Do It.

The ATO has previously told Fairfax Media that Australian tax advisers and their wealthy clients with links to the Panama Papers may be hit with criminal charges.

Deputy Commissioner Mark Konza told Senate Estimates he was aware of media reports indicating another big leak was coming.

“We have been aware of an issue regarding this firm,” he said. “We understand that it’s in regard to services provided by that law firm to taxpayers.

“… From the bare details that we have, that it might be similar to the Panama Papers where tax structuring has been exposed.”

In 2016-17, the ATO also took part in a joint international investigation into Swiss banking relationship managers, who are alleged to have actively promoted and facilitated tax evasion in Australia.

Its annual report said it had “identified a number of Australians that require further examination in respect of offshore activities”.

The ATO’s private groups and wealthy Australians programs (including high-wealth individuals, trusts and promoters) had more than 520 taxpayers under audit or review. This work raised $834 million in liabilities and $466 million in cash collections in 2016-17.

It also noted that the government’s Phoenix Taskforce, which included the ATO, was moving against illegal phoenix behaviour.

It said its campaign to make the community aware of the problem via media and social media promotions had resulted in a 24 per cent increase in referrals to the Tax Evasion Referral Centre compared with last year, which could lead to future compliance action.

In 2016-17, there had been 680 reviews and audits, resulting in liabilities of $326.8 million and cash collections of $133 million.

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