How an alleged $165m tax fraud syndicate unravelled

Raid on the offices of Rommark in Double Bay.Property developer Michael Teplitsky is arrested by Federal Police Photo: Fairfax MediaOne of the largest tax fraud syndicates in the country’s history unravelled in spectacular fashion above the clothing boutiques and trendy cafes of Double Bay on Wednesday.
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With his morning coffee in hand, property developer Boris Markovsky opened the door to his eastern suburbs office to more than a dozen Australian Federal Police wearing plain clothes and leather gloves.

Fairfax Media watched on as Rommark Corporation, run by Ukrainian-born developers Michael Teplitsky and Mr Markovsky, was turned upside down by officers who combed through piles of documents.

It was one of 28 properties across Sydney raided by 300 police as an extraordinary investigation into a $165 million tax fraud came to a head.

Mr Teplitsky and Mr Markovsky are not believed to be involved in the fraud syndicate but police allege some of the $165 million was laundered through Rommark through investments in property developments.

After initially inviting Fairfax Media in to talk about the raid, Mr Teplitsky exploded at a photographer who was documenting the raid, crash tackling him to the ground and ripping his shirt.

Mr Teplitsky’s new girlfriend, socialite Olivia Korner, pulled the hair of Fairfax’s reporter and screamed at officers to get off her boyfriend.

Six police officers tried to arrest Mr Teplitsky, struggling with him on the ground in front of horrified shoppers and workers in the quiet complex next door to the Intercontinental Hotel.

Another man threatened Fairfax Media outside the building, grabbing a mobile phone and saying, “You don’t want to mess with us”.

It’s understood police were also searching Rommark’s offices for information relating to Daniel Hausman, an associate of Mr Teplitsky’s who allegedly turned on the syndicate and tried to extort them for $5 million.

Elsewhere across Sydney, police raided several homes and businesses including the Bondi Beach unit of Adam Cranston, 30, son of Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston.

Adam was hauled out just after dawn, shirtless and in tracksuit pants. Properties in Vaucluse, Waterloo, Woollahra and Wahroonga were also raided.

Officers also paid a visit to Michael Cranston at his Menai home to advise him of his son’s arrest and serve him with a future court attendance notice for allegedly abusing his position in public office.

“Michael was in shock when we spoke to him,” AFP detective superintendent Kirsty Schofield said on Thursday.

Rommark advertises itself as Sydney’s “prestigious boutique developers” behind projects including The Gallery at Double Bay and Genoa of Bondi Junction.

Mr Teplitsky’s vast portfolio of developments includes the forthcoming 19-storey luxury 8Hotel on Wentworth Avenue in Surry Hills, and the century-old 100 Harris Street building in Pyrmont, occupied by Fairfax Media’s real estate site Domain.

The 48-year-old split from his wife earlier this year, not long after they bought “Aussie” John Symond’s Point Piper penthouse for $13.3 million.

On Wednesday, he was taken away in handcuffs to calm down and was later released without charge.

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Meet the koala that wouldn’t let go of this bullbar

Hanging on: The lost koala near Gunnedah late last year. Photo: WWF-AustraliaJames, a sorghum farmer near Gunnedah, was used to seeing koalas in odd locations near his property, but the discovery of one clinging to the bull bar of his fertiliser truck late last year took the biscuit.
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Tractors had been going all night, perhaps disorienting the “fully mature” specimen, who was found far from the nearest tree.

Efforts to unclasp the famously tight koala grip failed, so James carefully reversed his truck for two kilometres – so he couldn’t accidentally run it over – to woodland where the animal found a more familiar abode.

“I’ve seen them up power poles and even our shed [but] … I’ve never seen one on a vehicle,” James told Fairfax Media, declining to give his surname. “Hopefully it found a happy home somewhere.”

The chance of spotting a koala in any setting is getting less likely in NSW, with the state’s population shrinking by about a quarter over the last 20 years to about 36,000, according to a report released earlier this year by the state’s Chief Scientist.

National totals were about 330,000 but falling fast in areas such the Pillaga, where they have dropped 80 per cent since the 1990s.

“They are getting hit from all sides,” said Christine Adams-Hosking, a researcher from the University of Queensland, who released a report on koala numbers in that state and NSW for WWF-Australia in time for world Threatened Species Day on Friday.

Dr Adams-Hosking said coastal populations were at risk from increased urbanisation, while inland areas faced worsening threats from land clearing.

Looming over the top of both, climate change was already affecting both regions by pushing animals beyond natural tolerance levels while diminishing the range and nutrient value of their food trees, she said.

“A temperature of about 37.7 degrees is about the maximum they can tolerate, and we’re getting 10 days well into the 40s in some areas [with koala habitat],” Dr Adams-Hosking said. “There’s absolutely no doubt climate change is already hitting koalas.”

Gunnedah, for instance, lost 25 per cent of its koalas during the 2009 heatwaves, the WWF-Australia report noted.

Elsewhere, the rising human population in regions such as Port Macquarie-Hastings has put the future of koalas in doubt. Some 250 koalas – or more than 10 per cent of the local population – were being hospitalised a year, the report noted.

Cars, dog attacks and the spread of disease – apparently made worse by stress – were to blame in such areas, Dr Adams-Hosking said.

“Koalas are a flagship species giving an indication of what’s going so wrong in our environment,” she said. “It’s screaming at us.”

NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said the government had begun work on developing a broad-based effort to help stabilise and ultimately increase koala numbers.

These efforts included spending $10 million over five years to buy vital koala habitat, adding to the purchase in March 2016 of South Coast flora reserves totalling 120 square kilometres to “protect the last known local koala population”, she said.

Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, said koalas were “on track to become extinct in NSW by 2055”.

“Labor calls on the government to have a koala summit to bring together experts and all stakeholders to finalise a koala recovery plan,” Ms Sharpe said. “[ALP] will reverse the new land-clearing laws to place biodiversity protection at the centre of saving threatened species like the iconic koala.”

Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens NSW environment spokeswoman, said the government’s new land-clearing laws were “completely incompatible with any objective to prevent local koala population extinctions”.

“You can’t say that you want to protect local koala populations, then pass laws that do the opposite,” Dr Faruqi said. “We need a bold plan to permanently protect and conserve koala habitat, both at a local level as well as through expanding the National Parks system.”

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The close calls that almost derailed a $165 million ‘tax fraud’ syndicate

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An alleged $165 million tax fraud syndicate stretching from one of the country’s highest tax officials to struggling drug addicts was almost derailed by a secret extortion bid and a lowly recruit who went rogue before federal police blew the conspiracy open on Thursday.

The biggest white-collar fraud racket in Australian history unravelled after 300 federal police officers raided 28 properties and arrested nine people, including the son and daughter of Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston.

Mr Cranston has been issued with a future court attendance notice for allegedly abusing his position as a public officer by trying to access restricted information on an audit involving his son.

The extraordinary investigation has implicated high-ranking lawyers, tax office workers and veteran journalist Steve Barrett who has not been charged but has been accused by police of extorting $5 million from the syndicate after members had a falling out.

Police allege $165 million was amassed in just a year by a group of high-flying school friends and business associates including Mr Cranston’s son Adam, 30, Vaucluse businessman and former television sports commentator Jason Onley, 47 and Dev Menon, 33, a tax lawyer at Clamenz Lawyers who boasted online of his years of experience and “innovative approach to tax”.

Mr Cranston’s daughter Lauren, 24, and friend Devyn Hammond, 24, allegedly worked from laptops in a rented office in the Sutherland Shire, keeping detailed logs of illegal payments, companies and bank accounts.

The syndicate allegedly ran a legitimate payroll company, Plutus Payroll, and accepted money from legitimate clients, including several government departments, to process payroll on their behalf.

They set up seven sub-contracted companies, or tier 2 companies, in mid 2016 and recruited unwitting drug addicts and welfare recipients to act as “straw directors” who provided a front for the syndicate.

The tier 2 companies made payroll payments but withheld small amounts of PAYG each time, gradually siphoning it off to the syndicate.

Some members also ripped off the straw directors, promising them $1000 a week but “clipping” off $500 to $800 for themselves, according to documents tendered in Central Local Court on Thursday.

The documents reveal that the syndicate almost derailed in February, when Daniel Rostankovski, whose job it was to manage all the straw directors, believed someone in the syndicate had secretly taken $25 million.

Police allege that at a meeting at Clamenz Lawyers on February 1, Mr Rostankovski, 28, and Mr Barrett, 59, blackmailed the group, demanding $5 million or Mr Barrett would expose the syndicate in the media.

The group complied, using complex systems to disguise the payment in exchange for an agreement that the ATO, the police or the media would not be notified.

In another close call, one of the straw directors turned rogue, locking the syndicate out of a tier 2 company’s bank account and withdrawing $25,000.

In late January, the syndicate appeared rattled when the ATO served garnishee orders on several tier 2 companies regarding unpaid PAYG.

In an intercepted phone call, Adam Cranston said he was getting his father to “look into it”.

“He is looking into it but considering he doesn’t know about it, it can’t be like the biggest thing since Ben Hur,” he allegedly told Mr Menon.

“There is no question this would be the biggest tax fraud,” Mr Menon replied.

Michael Cranston, who had pioneered much of the ATO’s tax avoidance work, allegedly instructed two ATO officers to look up restricted information relating to an audit.

The trio did not know about the syndicate but they have been suspended and an internal investigation has been launched.

On Thursday, acting ATO Commissioner Andrew Mills said he was confident the ATO’s systems had not been breached.

“The investigation has so far not revealed any evidence of actual intervention or influence on audit cases, or of money being refunded, or of tax liability being changed,” he said.

He described Michael Cranston as one of the organisation’s “long-serving senior officers” who had “quite an illustrious [career] up until this point”.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close said the syndicate appeared to use the money to fund a “lavish lifestyle”.

Among the items seized under proceeds of crime were 25 motor vehicles, including luxury cars and racing cars, 12 motorbikes, 18 residential properties, two aircraft, $1 million from a safe deposit box, firearms, jewellery, bottles of Grange wine and artworks. More than 100 bank accounts were closed.

Some money was allegedly laundered through Rommark Corporation, a property development firm run by eastern suburbs identities Michael Teplitsky and Boris Markovsky. The pair are not suspected of being involved in the alleged fraud.

Six people have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth, three have been charged with blackmail offences and two charged with dealing with proceeds of crime.

Seven members appeared in court on Thursday were granted strict bail and offered large sums of money as surety.

Plutus Payroll, a preferred tender for federal government payroll services, had its accounts frozen earlier this month.

Workers from the Department of Justice, Transport NSW, the NDIS and Department of Defence were among those who complained of not being paid.

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Liverpool legend harnessing tour to create a legacy

It’s easy to be cynical about Liverpool’s exhibition match against Sydney FC on Wednesday. It was announced abruptly, just six weeks before the game. At least four retired Reds players will be wheeled out, and, with the game to be played just three days after their last match of the Premier League season, fears of a second-string side being deployed linger.
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The team won’t arrive until late in the night before the match – their fourth friendly in Australia in as many years – providing little, if any, time for fan engagement.

However, one of their most famous faces is intent on challenging the perception of foreign clubs coming Down Under to make a fast buck, and wants to make sure the Reds leave behind something more than empty merchandise stands.

Craig Johnston spent seven seasons at Anfield winning five trophies with the Reds during the 1980s and now deep into his retirement, the Liverpool legend is working behind the scenes to establish a permanent pathway between his old club and his homeland.

“I’ve been talking to them about legacy components where they can make a difference from all the other clubs who come in and go,” he said. “It takes time to shift that, but 100 per cent they’re taking it seriously because they appreciate the fan base here.”

Having barely engaged their Australian audiences for decades, Liverpool bombarded them in recent years. Games in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane precede Wednesday’s clash, and there was a legends tour played in between. According to Johnston, the link between Australia and the club is as much cultural as it is hinged on their success from the 1980s.

“Liverpool has very much got a lot of Irish history, tradition and heritage and so does Australia… I think Australians and scousers have a very similar attitude, dry sense of humour, sense of irony,” Johnston said. “There’s a sense of rebellion, a sense of mistrust of authority and that’s ingrained in us Australians as well.”

Liverpool are looking to establish a firm presence in Australia. It was sparked by the reception the club received in Melbourne, where more than 90,000 fans provided their warmest welcome outside of Merseyside. It soon followed with an academy linked with the Southern Cross University in Lismore, a tie with the Craig Johnston Cup – aimed at assisting with the football development of school students – and as Johnston hints at, is set to continue with a larger scale presence at Australia’s grassroots.

“Getting to more kids on their youth development front, which they’re doing as part of their LFC academy,” Johnston said. “I think Liverpool will strengthen that pathway between Australia and Liverpool, the city itself. There are several things I’ve been working that will come out down the track and it’s based on legacy.”

It’s a program spearheaded by Johnston, a proud Australian, and as he never represented his country on the international stage, it’s one that carries a sense of atonement. He’s remaining tight-lipped on the final product, but the reception to Wednesday night will strengthen Johnston’s case to the club.

The expected crowd of 75,000 that will fill ANZ Stadium will do his cause no harm. For all the cynicism, the punters haven’t been put off and the promise of former players Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Steve McManaman lining up only strengthened ticket sales.

It’s a game that will line the club’s coffers with Aussie dollars once more, but if it comes with the caveat of Johnston’s bid to provide direct pathways between Australian parks and Anfield, the club hopes it will be a cheap price to pay for a lasting legacy.

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Rabbitohs, rugby league community rally behind Inglis

Greg Inglis addressed a stunned South Sydney leadership group before checking into a mental health rehabilitation facility last week, Now his Rabbitohs teammates – and the wider rugby league community – are rallying behind one of the game’s highest-profile stars in his battle with depression.
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The Australian international and State of Origin’s greatest try-scorer received messages of support from NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg and the game’s greatest coaches Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy, a day after the Rabbitohs confirmed Inglis has been having mental health treatment.

The South Sydney skipper told the club’s leadership group he would be checking into a rehabilitation clinic despite turning his hand to a mentoring role following a season-ending knee injury in round one.

“Greg personally spoke to the senior group – or leadership group within the team – and we spoke to the players throughout,” replacement skipper Sam Burgess said.

“Obviously the senior management throughout the club were aware and they tried to protect Greg’s privacy for as long as possible. Unfortunately these things are always going to come out.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what Greg’s feeling or thinking and for us to guess what it might be is probably a bit irresponsible.

“[But] when Greg comes out he’ll feel the love and support from thousands of people around the country. We’re proud of him for what he’s going through.”

Inglis’ plight particularly struck a chord with Rabbitohs centre Bryson Goodwin, whose older brother Leon took his own life in March.

Goodwin, who is part of the Rabbitohs’ leadership group, spoke a week later about why he decided to play for the Rabbitohs against the Knights just 24 hours after being told of his brother’s death.

“When [Inglis] said it I was taken aback, but I straight away just offered him my full support for him and his family,” Goodwin said. “It was out of the blue and it was a hard thing for him to do, but it was a step forward for him as well.

“Pretty much six of the seven days of the week you’re around 25 of your good friends for the majority of the day and then all of a sudden you spend time away [when injured] and it can be pretty tough I’d imagine. He’s gone to get the help he needs and he’ll be better for it.”

Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire has lent on Inglis to take a more hands-on coaching role with South Sydney’s back five after he had a knee reconstruction following the opening round loss to the Tigers.

Inglis played more than half the match on one knee and refused to come from the ground at half-time. It was only after the game scans confirmed he had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament.

Despite that he spent a week in camp with Mal Meninga’s Kangaroos before the Anzac Test.

“On the outside, our rugby league players look big and strong and fit,” Greenberg said.

“The message is simple – not just for our players but the broader community – which is, ‘if you’re going through some difficult moments, never be afraid to put your hand up’.

“Never be afraid to ask for some help, whether that’s professional or just a mate to talk to. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Broncos coach Bennett credited Brisbane skipper Darius Boyd for helping inspire Inglis after the Clive Churchill medallist waged a very public battle with depression and is now one of the game’s most respected on-field figures.

“[Mental health] is an issue in our society and it always has been,” Bennett said. “But we are in a more open society. People don’t want to hide any more.

“In the past it was a stigma. It was seen as being weak – all that has been removed thank God.”

Craig Bellamy, Inglis’ former coach at the Storm, said: “He is a pretty special guy ‘GI’, but we know he is in good hands and with the sort of guy he is he will recover from this.

“But we want to tell him everyone at Storm is really thinking of him, have always loved him and still love him now.

“I know he will get through this, he is at a good club who are looking after him and he is with the right people.”

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