Project Wickenby, now in its seventh year and with additional funding until 2015, continues to raise revenue and improve voluntary compliance.
The reduced fund flows to offshore secrecy jurisdictions validate that the attitudes and behaviours Australians have towards tax evasion are changing.
'Wickenby has been instrumental in shifting attitudes and changing behaviour. It has helped raise the community's awareness about tax evasion. People recognise that their taxes fund vital government services and that those who avoid tax, cheat the community. This understanding adds to the integrity of our systems', said Greg Williams, ATO Deputy Commissioner, Serious Non-compliance.
'The prosecutions have made tax evaders and promoters aware of our ability to detect these arrangements. So far we have raised more than $1.5 billion in liabilities and made 34 prosecutions. These figures demonstrate that we continue to detect people doing the wrong thing.'
'A $307.6 million compliance dividend shows the revenue we've received, because of the improved compliance behaviour of taxpayers and their close associates, is due to our activities. It's clear Project Wickenby is reducing international tax evasion in the Australian tax system. Therefore, we are delivering on our responsibility and commitment to protect Australia's economic wellbeing for the benefit of the community.'
The Project Wickenby task force is recognised internationally for its collaborative approach to enhance strategies and capabilities to collectively detect, disrupt and deal with tax evasion and money laundering. This approach has become a blueprint for other working partnerships, including the Criminal Asset Confiscation Taskforce and Fusion, with the ATO being a member of both groups.
Wickenby combines the effort and expertise of eight government and law enforcement agencies. The strength of the cross-agency approach has been enhanced by the disclosure of secrecy provisions, which are available in certain circumstances to protect Australia's public finances. They've allowed the ATO to work within the boundaries of the law to share useful intelligence and data with law enforcement agencies, to track down tax evaders and hold them accountable.
The task force is also known for its cooperation with international governments. Revenue agencies globally provide us with vital intelligence and expertise in financial investigations because they have the tools to identify unexplained wealth held overseas. Interestingly, while Australia does not buy information, the practice of paying so-called whistleblowers is acceptable in some foreign jurisdictions and Australia can then receive this information from its international counterparts.
The partnerships are significant because, together with legislative and system changes, they have been fundamental in helping us keep pace in a dynamic, borderless and ever-changing technological environment.
Greg said, 'Project Wickenby has laid the foundation. Into the future, we will continue to pursue tax cheats to the full extent of the law to ensure people who pay their fair share of tax are not disadvantaged. It's only a matter of time before people engaging in this harmful behaviour will be caught'.
Project Wickenby results at a glance
A major player in one of the nation's most high-profile tax avoidance schemes has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to six years jail. They have connections with many other cases so the impact of the sentence is strong. The reality is that their criminal associates should be nervous.
At 30 January 2013:
- 3,383 audits and reviews completed
- 69 people charged
- 34 people convicted
- more than $381 million in cash collections raised at 11 December 2012
- more than $1.5 billion in tax liabilities raised.