ATO to chase advisers linked to tax evasion

The Australian Taxation Office has said it is ramping up its focus on offshore tax evasion after visiting seven advice firms yesterday which it believes are linked to this type of illegal arrangement.

In a statement, the ATO said it contacted more than 100 parents who had paid school fees from overseas bank accounts.

The ATO has also obtained more than 5,000 client names from wealth management firms and compiled a list of 100 advisers and promoters who have a direct link to those suspected of tax evasion.

The ramped-up focus follows the ATO's offshore disclosure initiative, known as 'Project DO IT: Disclose Offshore Income Today'. Under the initiative, more than 5,800 Australians have brought $600 million in offshore income and $5.4 billion in assets back to the Australian economy, the statement said.

"The net is closing for people who think they can avoid their Australian tax obligations by holding money and assets offshore," said ATO deputy commissioner Michael Cranston.

"The intelligence picture we now have has been built from information taxpayers disclosed under Project DO IT about the adviser who put them into the offshore arrangements; data mining; and client records seized from advisers in transit.

"We'll be visiting Australian advisers, including tax agents, legal advisers, financial institutions and stockbrokers, to obtain their full client lists and identify those who have failed to come forward and clean up their tax arrangements under Project DO IT," he said.

Mr Cranston added that the school fees information was obtained from about 60 private schools around Australia, showing parents who have had school fees paid from an offshore account or related offshore entity.

"We've checked this information against income tax returns and will follow up discrepancies with about 100 parents who may have failed to declare their offshore interests," Mr Cranston said.

"We'll be asking them to provide documents and attend interviews to answer questions about their arrangements. There is nothing wrong with having an offshore account, but you need to pay tax on the interest or earnings."

Further, the list of advisers and promoters has been shared with "nine key overseas tax administrations". The ATO has requested those administrations undertake an "intelligence review" of the advisers' operations in their countries.

"Some of these offshore advisers are located in Jersey, Switzerland, Guernsey, British Virgin Islands and are associated with both known institutions as well as boutique and private banks," Mr Cranston said.

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