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ATO investigating 800 Australians connected to Panama leak

Business

More than 800 wealthy Australians are being investigated by the Australian Taxation Office over their dealings with a secretive Panama-based law firm used by the rich to hide money.

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The ATO identified the individuals ahead of the leaking of 11.5 million Mossack Fonseca documents detailing the offshore holdings of high net worth people around the world, including world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston says the ATO has also linked more than 120 of the Australians to an associate offshore service provider in Hong Kong.

While some of the Australians have been previously investigated by the ATO, action was already being taken against a large number of wealthy people who didn’t volunteer information as part of the agency’s recent crackdown on unreported offshore income as part of Project DO IT (Disclose Offshore Income Today).

“We have been analysing the latest data against information these taxpayers had reported to the ATO and against the information we already have,” Cranston said in a statement on Monday.

“Through data analysis we have been able to identify patterns such as clusters of individual taxpayer and advisers for further investigation.”

The ATO is working with the Australian Federal Police, Australian Crime Commission and AUSTRAC to cross-check information and says some cases could be referred to the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce.

“The message is clear – taxpayers can’t rely on these secret arrangements being kept secret and we will act on any information that is provided to us,” Cranston said.

Details about the Australian probe emerged as 11.5 million records from Mossack Fonseca dating back four decades were leaked to the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and major media outlets around the world.

The documents contain details on more than 214,000 offshore entities connected to people in over 200 countries and territories.

Details about how major banks including HSBC and UBS helped create 15,000 companies in offshore havens are also included.

Oxfam Australia chief executive Dr Helen Szoke urged the federal government to make tax information public and not allow tax havens and the companies that use them to operate in secret.

“Tax avoidance is a local problem, as well as a global one – and the Australian government must act now,” she said.

“While ordinary Australians are being told as a nation we must `live within our means’, tax avoidance by multinationals and the super rich are drastically reducing these means.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government had reaped $400 million in revenue in recent years from acting on sources and information received by the ATO related to tax avoidance by multinationals.

The government has agreements with more than 100 countries to swap information to crack down on tax avoidance while laws to strengthen the system passed parliament in December.

“Our record when it comes to tax avoidance and particularly multinational tax avoidance is one of legislation and action,” he told ABC radio.

AAP

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