Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus
Through employing the core principles of prevention, deterrence, partnership and innovation, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) is striving to build a more secure future for Australia. Commissioner Tony Negus explains how the AFP's investigations into tax evasion are playing a role in the whole-of-government approach towards national security.
Project Wickenby is an ongoing joint venture involving the AFP, the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Crime Commission, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. It aims to protect the integrity of Australian financial and regulatory systems by preventing people from promoting or participating in the abuse of secrecy havens.
What is the AFP's role in Project Wickenby?
The AFP has a responsibility to investigate matters that impact on the Commonwealth. Many of the offences targeted by the Wickenby taskforce relate to serious fraud and money laundering, which are illegal under the Criminal Code.
As the criminal investigation arm of the project, the AFP has been able to use its expertise and experience to examine cases for potential criminal offences. The AFP investigates matters referred to it by other partner agencies and is also involved in joint investigations.
The AFP targets key organisers and facilitators of tax fraud and money laundering in known secrecy havens. High-risk taxpayers and accountancy firms utilising these schemes are also targeted.
The AFP also contributes to the Joint Strategic Intelligence Team and participates in working groups to identify and advance ways in which government agencies can work together more effectively.
How is the AFP targeting tax crime?
The AFP's goal, as a partner agency in Project Wickenby, is to disrupt offshore tax evasion schemes and deter others from utilising them.
One of Project Wickenby's key objectives is to make Australia unattractive for international tax avoidance and evasion schemes. As part of its operations the AFP investigates internationally promoted tax arrangements that allegedly involve tax avoidance or money laundering.
It also works with partner agencies to identify other areas of concern.
What specific capability is the AFP bringing to Project Wickenby?
The AFP brings its expertise in criminal investigations to the team. It can also draw on other resources within the organisation such as the provision of intelligence and the capabilities of the AFP's International Network.
The AFP is also providing training to other agencies in relation to combating money laundering operations and recovering the proceeds of crime.
It is also helping to build expertise in combating financial crime across the region, as part of ongoing initiatives with international law enforcement agencies. For example, the AFP hosts members of Pacific Island police agencies on secondment, helping them to develop expertise and gain experience in relation to financial investigations.
In partnership with the Attorney General's Department, the AFP recently hosted a workshop involving 17 Pacific Island countries and China. The workshop aimed to strengthen working relationships between each country and Australia's Financial Investigation Units and Transnational Crime Units. The program also helped to develop capability in relation to international investigations into multi-national organised tax fraud and money laundering.
Should law enforcement agencies like the AFP be involved in combating tax evasion?
Yes. In recent years, the definition of national security has been expanded from just meaning freedom from attack, to also include the maintenance of our territorial integrity and political sovereignty, the preservation of hard-won freedoms and the fundamental capacity to advance economic prosperity for all Australians. Issues such as money laundering and tax fraud are therefore priorities. From a law enforcement perspective, these issues may also be indicators of other organised criminal activity, as syndicates use money laundering and fraud to conceal other illicit activities.
The AFP is in a unique position to utilise its skills and expertise across a broad spectrum of crime types to investigate all these forms of criminal activity. It is committed to working within a whole-of-government approach to combat crimes against the Commonwealth.
One of the reasons Project Wickenby is effective is because the agencies involved work together using their respective capabilities in a multiplying effect to combat serious offences against the Commonwealth.
How is the AFP's approach to tax evasion changing?
Through Project Wickenby the AFP has continued to develop its own capability in combating tax crimes as well as developing domestic and international partner agencies. Under the Project Wickenby banner, more than 500 AFP and partner agency members have been trained in money laundering investigations, proceeds of crime recovery and financially-based programs, designed to meet specific needs of the project.
The Organised Crime Strategic Framework recognises that arrest and prosecution is just one outcome within the law enforcement space. The key to success also lies in identifying effective measures to significantly disrupt illegal activity and dismantle criminal syndicates.
In the case of Wickenby, that means success can also be measured by the number of people who have now voluntarily lodged their tax return, or lodged an accurate tax return, where previously they may not have done so.
While this is providing a different approach than that traditionally employed within a law enforcement context, it is important to note that Project Wickenby is also having success in terms of prosecution.
The AFP is currently conducting 12 operations investigating the criminal conduct of a large number of individuals with five referrals currently under assessment. The AFP has charged 44 people with serious fraud and money laundering offences. Five have been convicted and are now serving custodial sentences, with a further eight having pleaded guilty and awaiting sentence.
The AFP is committed to continuing its role to investigate serious fraud offences, tax evasion and money laundering as part of the Project Wickenby team. The AFP will continue to work in partnership with other agencies to identify new areas of concern.