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19-year tax fraud probe ends in jail time for scheme promoter

Last updated 16 August 2020

A 19-year-long joint tax fraud investigation by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) came to an end today with 60-year-old Mr Philip Northam sentenced to 6 years jail in the District Court of Queensland at Brisbane.

Mr Northam was arrested by the AFP on a warrant issued in 2008 when he re-entered Australia in November 2018 after living in Vanuatu for a number of years.

Mr Northam was a key promoter of an intricate tax evasion scheme which was designed to strip Australian companies of their assets and leave them in a position where they were unable to pay their tax liabilities.

The illegal scheme concocted a way for companies to transfer all assets of the company to its previous controllers, leaving the company an empty shell which was unable to pay its tax debts.

Once the assets of the company were stripped, new straw directors and shareholders were put in before the company was wound up leaving the entities with no means to pay the tax liabilities.

The civil audit commenced in April 2000 as a result of a tip off from a tax agent. The case was referred to the Australian Federal Police in December 2000 which commenced criminal investigations in early 2001.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions prosecuted the matter.

Northam is the fifth and final offender to be sentenced for his role in the scheme, bringing the two-decade long joint-investigation to a close. Four other men have already been sentenced as part of the investigation.

“This sentencing shows the tenacity and persistence of the ATO and our partner agencies to hold enablers of illegal schemes to account and to secure an outcome for the benefit of honest taxpayers. It also goes to show that tip offs from the community do pay off”, said Assistant Commissioner Aislinn Walwyn

“Tax crime is not victimless. This arrangement was set up to deliberately evade paying tax, which is money that could have otherwise been used to fund vital public services that the community relies upon. The investigation resulted in almost $4.5 million of lost revenue being recovered.”

AFP Assistant Commissioner Northern Command Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale said today’s sentencing highlights the commitment of the AFP and its partners to targeting those seeking to defraud the Australian public.

“We have a duty to the community to see matters like this through to prosecution, and bring people to account for their criminal activities,” Assistant Commissioner Gale said.

“Tax fraud can make for a complex investigation, but the AFP remains up to the challenge and is grateful for the specialist expertise of our partners through the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce that allows investigators to investigate these matters thoroughly and effectively present these matters before the courts.”

The ATO and partners, such as the AFP, take all forms of tax crime seriously and have strategies in place to detect and pursue the most intricately planned schemes. The ATO-led Serious Financial Crime Taskforce is a joint-agency taskforce equipped with the resources, data-matching capability and international and domestic intelligence-sharing relationships to uncover even the most intricately planned serious financial crime.

If you or a member of the community has any knowledge or concerns about someone involved in tax fraud or evasion, find out how to report it by visiting or call 1800 060 062. Reports can be made anonymously.