ATO gains access to Swiss bank accounts, wealthy individuals on notice
Australians holding Swiss bank accounts are being monitored by the Tax Office for the first time, with transactions by certain high-wealth individuals a special focus, the ABC has been told.
Deputy tax commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn said the ATO now has access to Swiss bank accounts, which will be tracked to ensure Australians pay their fair share of tax.
“If we go to the almost cliched Swiss bank account, we just received our first list of all Australians who hold Swiss bank accounts,” Mr Hirschhorn told the ABC’s AM program.
“Of course, there’s nothing wrong with holding a Swiss bank account. But certainly there’s a few people in the list that we’re pretty interested about.”
Mr Hirschorn would not confirm whether or not high-wealth individuals on the list monitored by the ATO included prominent Australians.
“I don’t want to go into people on the list in terms of individuals. But what I would say is that prominent Australians are generally good taxpayers,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“You would be surprised if there were household names on the list.”
In its corporate transparency report released yesterday, the ATO said 81 per cent of Australian private entities were linked to groups controlled by wealthy individuals.
The report pointed to 11,000 high-wealth entities, which include companies, trusts, partnerships and superannuation funds.
“The first thing is that we know who they are, we know who the big fish are,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“The digital economy, in some ways makes it easier to move things around the world, but you also leave digital footprints everywhere and so it is possible to track people as they move things around the world.”
‘The days of stashing money overseas are over’
Mr Hirschhorn said the digital world now made it easy for employees to highlight companies or individuals that might be involved in shady tax affairs.
“A disgruntled employee can download the entire database of a company — we saw that in the Panama papers — and then that can be easily shared amongst the revenue authorities of the world,” Mr Hirschhorn said.
“So the days of stashing money overseas are over.”
The continuing surveillance of tax avoiders was a key feature of the corporate tax transparency report, which revealed that around a third of large Australian companies did not pay tax despite making a gross profit.
Mr Hirschhorn cited previous losses, sensitivity to economic conditions, tax deductions and tax offsets that enabled some of the 2,109 entities to pay no tax.
“That’s particularly the case when companies are starting up,” he pointed out.
“Often that’s the case with a large mining company or extractive industries company and then when a company actually makes a loss in a particular year, they are able to carry that forward into future years.”
While not commenting on specific companies, Mr Hirschhorn agreed that Qantas had now exhausted its “carry forward” ability from a $2.8 billion full-year loss in 2014 and is paying corporate tax again.