The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) is the nation's peak criminal intelligence agency. New CEO John Lawler explains how the ACC is working with partners to fight organised crime, including abusive tax haven arrangements.
What is the role of the ACC?
The ACC is a national criminal intelligence gathering agency, which focuses on serious and organised crime. We work in partnership with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to deliver strategic and operational intelligence and provide Australia's national criminal intelligence database.
Our niche is to complement the efforts of other agencies by providing specialist law enforcement capabilities.
Everything we do is either with or for a partner agency, which is why our close collaboration with the Tax Office maximises efforts to tackle serious and organised crime in Australia.
The ACC is placing a high priority on detecting, targeting and monitoring criminal money flows and business structures of serious and organised crime.
How is the ACC targeting tax crime?
The ACC is leading Operation Wickenby, the intelligence and investigative component of the larger Australian Tax-Office-led Project Wickenby.
We investigate and develop intelligence on people or organisations involved in abusive tax haven arrangements and money laundering. This has resulted in the investigation of nine separate criminal matters relating to the tax evasion schemes devised by a Swiss-based financial services provider.
We are also collecting and analysing intelligence to understand and detect vulnerabilities associated with abusive tax haven arrangements. We are identifying people exploiting these vulnerabilities and in turn providing targeting opportunities for other agencies.
What specific capability is the ACC bringing to Project Wickenby?
Our coercive powers have been an effective strategy in gathering intelligence and unravelling complex tax evasion schemes.
These coercive powers, similar to those of a Royal Commission, enable us to summons witnesses and compel them to provide information they have on criminal activities in which they or others are involved.
They also compel these people to provide documents and other evidence we require.
Intelligence and evidence obtained as a result of exercising these powers has revealed the extent of tax fraud schemes and the alleged involvement of both off-shore based service providers and Australian promoters and participants.
These and other efforts by Wickenby agencies have resulted in improved compliance by participating taxpayers and a return to the Australian Government of more than $366 million.
Should an organised crime agency like the ACC be involved in combating tax evasion?
Current ACC intelligence suggests organised crime costs the Australian community more than $15 billion each year, mostly from drug trafficking. However tax fraud poses a huge risk.
While those involved in tax crime may not fit the traditional picture of organised criminals, they are operating highly sophisticated schemes, knowing full well their implications.
Tax evasion is effectively stealing from the Australian community and means less money for hospitals, schools, housing and other government services and activities.
Does this mean organised crime is changing?
Organised crime has always been motivated by money and power, but the organised crime networks that pose the greatest threat to Australia are often hard to distinguish from normal business and social activity.
The skills offered by accountants, financial advisors, lawyers and technology enable organised crime to operate and compete in commercial environments here and overseas.
For more information about the Australian Crime Commission please visit www.crimecommission.gov.au