Targeting tax crime: Project DO IT – October 2014

 Targeting tax crime

Opportunity ending - make the right choice before it is too late.

With its increasing capability to track money flows back to beneficiaries, the ATO is one step away from knocking on the doors of suspected tax evaders.

‘I want the people who have undisclosed money offshore to realise they are on notice,' says Greg Williams, ATO Deputy Commissioner. 'If they think they can remain undetected, they should think again. We are just one step away from knocking on their door,' he says.

'To support the enforcement of Australia’s tax and super laws, the law gives us full access to the details of every single international funds transfer involving Australia. Further, our international tax treaty partners are sharing more information with us every day,' he says.

‘Make no mistake; the ATO has a long reach. Just because something happens outside Australia's borders doesn’t mean it’s beyond the watchful eye of the ATO,’ the deputy commissioner says.

  • Find out more
  • The ATO's global network
  • Disclose offshore income today
End of find out more

The ATO is also working more closely with banks to get a better understanding of the volumes of data available from AUSTRAC.

‘We now have a greater ability to follow the trail of money across borders to the end beneficiary. Tax evaders should be aware that complex structures designed to throw authorities off the scent won’t stand up,’ Greg Williams says.

During 2012–13, AUSTRAC information contributed to 1,428 ATO audits that raised $572 million in additional tax. This is an increase of 127% from the $252 million raised in 2011–12.

For those who heed the warning and want to come forward, the ATO’s offshore voluntary disclosure initiative, Project DO IT, should be just the circuit breaker they are looking for.

Project DO IT provides Australians with the opportunity to voluntarily declare undisclosed or incorrectly reported offshore financial activities, and avoid steep penalties and the possibility of criminal charges.

With just two months remaining until the 19 December deadline, the ATO wants people to know that time is running out and they need to act quickly.

Find out more

How the ATO is keeping the tax system fair  

End of find out more

Many are coming forward

  • More than 1,500 taxpayers have lodged a full disclosure or expression of interest
  • More than $180 million of previously undeclared income has been disclosed
  • More than $1 billion worth of previously undeclared assets has been disclosed.

Case Study: 5 years jail for respected tax agent

Those who think that that there is safety in numbers will find that they are mistaken. It’s not a numbers game when it comes to catching tax evaders; our access to data and ability to use it is unprecedented, and momentum is only growing.

Recently a high-profile, respected tax agent was found to have used money laundering and other methods to help clients avoid paying tax. The court was told she used banks in Vanuatu to channel millions of dollars.

When the ATO uncovered the fraud, every one of the tax agent’s clients also came under suspicion, due to their tax file numbers being associated with the crime. Some of those clients have already been jailed under the Project Wickenby program while others are still being investigated.

The position of trust tax agents have with their clients and their knowledge of the tax system means they have a critical role in maintaining and protecting the integrity of that system. When that position is used to take advantage of the system for the agent's own personal gain and that of their clients, the penalties are severe.

The tax agent was sentenced to five years in jail, with the judge noting that the agent’s actions “were a significant breach of trust on the part of a qualified and highly placed accountant.”

Read more about our prosecution record to date.

End of example

AUSTRAC’s vast store of financial intelligence

In 2012–13 AUSTRAC received more than 84 million individual reports of financial transactions and suspicious matters from industry and government partner agencies (compared to 59 million reports in 2011–12).

This total included:

  • almost 80 million reports of international funds transfers with a total value of more than $3.5 trillion
  • more than 44,000 reports of suspicious matters submitted by industry.

Each year AUSTRAC disseminates thousands of pieces of financial intelligence to its partner agencies, including the ATO, to assist them in their investigations into tax evasion and other serious crimes.

A good offer

Project DO IT – the ATO’s offer of reduced penalties for those who disclose offshore income – is a genuine offer that advisers and relevant individuals should take seriously. This is the advice of tax advisers, Mark Leibler and Michael Bersten, in a panel interview with ATO deputy commissioners, Michael Cranston and Greg Williams, hosted by David Koch.

'This is a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Anyone who doesn’t take advantage of it would have to be insane, frankly,' Mark Leibler says in the interview, while Michael Bersten warns those affected: 'If you have something to disclose, you should come forward'.

Reinforcing what Mark Leibler and Michael Bersten say, Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston urges taxpayers to act. 'Project DO IT is a good offer and those who let it pass by will regret it,' he said.

'If you need to disclose international financial activities, act quickly and decisively. If we detect you first, you will be exposed to the full force of the law, including severe penalties.'

Under the initiative, the ATO is providing a number of benefits. Most significantly, taxpayers have an opportunity to avoid steep penalties and the risk of criminal prosecution for tax avoidance.

‘If you have something to disclose you should come forward, it’s in your own best interests to get some further advice and find out what your position is,' Michael Bersten says.

'It's an offer so good that we couldn’t possibly offer it again,' Greg Williams says.

Project DO IT is an opportunity for all Australians who have engaged in previously unreported offshore financial activities to get their tax affairs in order.

There are very few taxpayers who would not be eligible to make a disclosure under this initiative.

The process has been designed with the assistance of advisers and professional associations.

'The ATO has gone through a really fantastic process of consulting and ensuring this is a really robust, fair and balanced program. This is in the best interests of Australia and the individuals concerned,' Michael Bersten says.

Panel interview

In the panel discussion facilitated by well-known television presenter David Koch, tax experts Mark Leibler and Michael Bersten join ATO deputy commissioners Michael Cranston and Greg Williams to discuss the tax system and fairness, ATO's capability, and Project DO IT.

The discussion goes for about one hour and has been segmented into five videos:

  • The tax system and fairness
  • The ATO’s capability and effectiveness
  • Project DO IT – why come forward now?
  • The future of tax administration
  • Q&A.


Get an insider perspective on why it’s a good time to declare offshore assets, what’s involved and the consequences if you don’t come forward now.


Duration 8mm: 53ss. A transcript of Project DO IT: Why come forward now is also available.

End of watch

Get it done

Subscribe to Targeting tax crime – the definitive whole-of-government magazine on tax crime.

End of get it done
    Last modified: 30 Oct 2014QC 42907