I did not order iron bar beating, alleged tax evasion mastermind tells court
Philip Whiteman gave evidence as part of the largest public examinations carried out by a liquidator in Australia’s history. (ABC News: Michael Barnett)
The man at the centre of a massive tax evasion investigation has denied arranging for another man to be beaten with an iron bar.
- Phillip Whiteman allegedly controlled businesses that helped clients evade paying tax through “phoenixing”
- Mr Whiteman allegedly installed “dummy” directors in clients’ companies to protect them from ATO and creditors
- He denied allegations he ordered a heroin-addicted dummy director to be beaten from behind
Philip Whiteman was also grilled in the Federal Court about his alleged relationship with a number of liquidators.
Mr Whiteman gave evidence as part of the largest public examinations carried out by a liquidator in Australia’s history.
It is alleged that he controlled a number of businesses that helped hundreds of clients evade paying tax through the practice of “phoenixing” — stripping a company of assets and cash before putting it into liquidation and restarting it under a different name.
Dozens of witnesses have already given evidence in the examinations, which are being carried out by accounting firm Pitcher Partners on behalf of the Australian Taxation Office.
Underlining the significance of the examinations, ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read was in court for Mr Whiteman’s evidence.
“The commissioner invests heavily in combating phoenix operators and their advisors,” Mr Read told the ABC.
“The ATO has undertaken several access without notice visits on entities suspected of phoenix behaviour.
“In complex matters the ATO has indemnified liquidators to investigate.”
ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read was in court for Mr Whiteman’s evidence (ABC News: Michael Barnett)
As first revealed by the ABC in 2016, one of the tactics Mr Whiteman allegedly used was to install “dummy” directors in clients’ companies to protect the clients from the tax office and other creditors.
This morning, Mr Whiteman was questioned about one of those alleged dummy directors, reportedly a heroin addict.
An employee of one of the companies Mr Whiteman allegedly controlled, Marisa Sampieri, previously gave evidence that Mr Whiteman made a comment about having the dummy director “fixed” because he was making a nuisance of himself.
Ms Sampieri said other employees then allegedly joked that the man would be beaten with an iron bar, but that he wouldn’t know what had happened to him because he would be hit from behind.
The man later came to the office of Mr Whiteman’s business with visible injuries, and said he had been attacked and beaten with an iron bar, but that he did not see who attacked him.
Barrister Ben Gibson, appearing for Pitcher Partners, said: “The substance of this evidence is that you directed [the man] to be assaulted with an iron bar, and he was assaulted with an iron bar”.
“A bunch of lies,” responded Mr Whiteman.
Fake company used for referral
As Mr Read and other officials looked on, Mr Whiteman was also questioned about his relationship with liquidators Travis Pullen, Andrew Poulter, Richard Rohrt and Glenn Crisp.
Under questioning from Mr Gibson, Mr Whiteman admitted that the businesses he allegedly controlled did refer work to all four liquidators, but claimed he could not recall whether he was involved in those referrals.
Under the corporate system, the primary responsibility of liquidator is to look after the interests of a company’s creditors — not the company’s directors or advisers — and the liquidator must be transparent about who referred the matter to them.
Mr Gibson then produced a number of emails and text messages between Mr Whiteman, Mr Crisp and Malcolm Howell — Mr Crisp’s colleague at the firm Jirsch Sutherland.
The communications allegedly show a proposal was made whereby the liquidators would receive a 5 per cent commission on any “pre-insolvency” work they referred to Mr Whiteman’s company A & S Services.
In return, A & S Services would refer liquidations to Jirsch Sutherland.
In an email from Mr Howell to Mr Whiteman, the liquidator said A & S Services would have to refer matters worth between $400,000 and $500,000 a year in “fees” for A & S to be considered Jirsch Sutherland’s “biggest referrer”.
Mr Whiteman claimed the proposal discussed in the emails never eventuated, and that the “fees” referred to could be for accounting or taxation work, rather than for liquidations.
“Is this truthful evidence, or are you making it up as you go along?” Mr Gibson asked.
“Truthful,” replied Mr Whiteman.
Mr Crisp also allegedly gave a presentation to Mr Whiteman’s staff, which Mr Gibson said appeared to focus more on protecting the interests of clients’ companies, rather than the creditors’ interests.
Mr Gibson then took Mr Whiteman to the liquidation of two companies carried out by Mr Crisp.
In both cases, Mr Gibson said, the matter was referred to Mr Crisp by Mr Whiteman, but in neither case did Mr Crisp declare that referral.
In one case, he named the referrer as a company that did not, and never had, existed.
In the other, he said the matter was referred by Queensland law firm Colwell Wright, which Mr Whiteman admitted had acted for him and had employed his ex-wife.
In relation to Mr Rohrt, Mr Gibson said a “dummy” director called Eric Snashall had given evidence that Mr Whiteman had taken him on a tour of the A & S Services offices, and then took him to Mr Rohrt’s office and introduced him.
“It appears that to him, you almost treated Mr Rohrt as part of your group,” Mr Gibson said.
The hearing continues.