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Former deputy tax commissioner found not guilty

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Former Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner Michael Cranston is looking forward to “a new start” after being cleared of misusing his position to help his son.

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Cranston was on trial in the NSW District Court accused of using information he obtained as a deputy commissioner, and exercising influence in the capacity of his role, with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a benefit for his son Adam.

The jury found him not guilty of both charges today, after a three-week trial and less than two days of deliberations.

“To actually be charged on something like this, as I said it was a shock and it was probably one of the worst things that has happened in my life,” Cranston told reporters after the verdict.

“Now it’s a new start, all this is now behind me and so I can just go forward.”

The Crown had told the jury that Cranston, now 59, instructed a staff member to search for information on an audit after a request from Adam Cranston in 2017.

Prosecutor Peter Neil SC, during his opening address, said Cranston’s son had a commercial relationship with the subject of the audit, Simon Anquetil.

“(Michael Cranston) should have recused himself from that request immediately,” Neil said.

Instead, Cranston informed his son his co-worker couldn’t access the protected information, the jury heard.

The prosecutor said the second charge involved an allegation that Adam Cranston again asked his father for help in relation to a company named Plutus Payroll, after the ATO issued orders which had the effect of freezing its accounts.

The crown case was that Cranston exercised his influence by contacting an assistant commissioner for help.

But Cranston during the trial said he was “very comfortable and confident” he did the right thing when his son contacted him for information for Anquetil, a business associate.

He said Adam came to him with a strongly worded tax office letter sent to Anquetil which Cranston believed indicated “an incorrect application of the law”.

He told his son: “I will try and get somebody to try and deal with it but I can’t get involved in any decision-making or any of the detail.”

Cranston said he was concerned about “the culture side of it” and wanted to know what area was treating taxpayers “like this”.

“All I wanted to find out was what area is it being done in,” he said.

“I would never have got involved.”

Cranston’s barrister, David Staehli SC, said during his opening address that it wouldn’t be proven that his client “believed he had no right to make the contacts which he did”.

Cranston disputed that he “acted in any way dishonestly in relation to either of these charges”, Staehli said.

– AAP

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