Michael Cranston photographed at the Hilton.The Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner of small and medium enterprises Michael Cranston.Be the first to know. Sign up for our breaking news alert
Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston will be charged in connection with an alleged $165 million tax fraud syndicate following what police have described as one of the biggest white collar fraud investigations in Australian history.
Mr Cranston has been issued a future court attendance notice for the charge of abusing his position as a public official. He is due to appear in Sydney’s Central Local Court on June 13.
His son, Adam Cranston, 30, and his daughter, Lauren Anne Cranston, 24, have also been charged following an eight-month investigation, codenamed Operation Elbrus.
???It’s alleged Michael Cranston accessed restricted information on an ATO audit for his son, but police do not believe he knew about his son’s alleged fraud syndicate.
Australian Federal Police 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.
ATO Second Commissioner Andrew Mills said two other ATO officers were also being investigated internally for potential code of conduct breaches. It’s believed they tried to look up information on the ATO’s audit at the behest of Michael Cranston.
The announcement came after nearly 300 police officers on Wednesday carried out raids across Sydney, Wollongong and the Southern Highlands, arresting nine people.
Adam Cranston, from Bondi, and Lauren Cranston, from Picton, are among six people alleged to be members of a tax fraud syndicate that netted $165 million.
All six were charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth for their alleged role in the syndicate, while two men were charged with money laundering offences.
One was charged in relation to an alleged extortion on the syndicate, which also resulted in additional charges against two people charged in relation to the syndicate.
Among those who appeared in court on Thursday are Daniel Rostankovski, 28, from Waterloo; Jason Cornell Onley, 47, from Vaucluse; Daniel Hausman, 47, from Woollahra; ???Christopher James Guillan, 46, from Sutherland; Dev Menon, 33, from Wahroonga and Devyn Hammon, 24, from Balgownie.
Police will allege in court that the syndicate members ran a legitimate payroll company, Plutus Payroll, and accepted money from legitimate clients to process payroll on their behalf.
“This money was transferred to seven sub-contracted companies known as Tier 2 companies, which then made payroll payments to individual workers or clients,” the federal police said in a statement.
The directors of those Tier 2 companies were known as straw directors, police say, and were essentially a front for the syndicate members, who retained effective control.
“As part of their contractual obligations to the legitimate payroll company’s clients, the Tier 2 companies are required to remit pay as you go (PAYG) withholding tax payments to the ATO on behalf of the clients,” police said.
“However, investigators found that only part of these tax obligations were paid. The remaining money was allegedly siphoned off by the syndicate members and channelled through a complex series of companies and trusts for their own personal gain.”
Tax Office investigators, who helped the federal police during the investigation, estimate the amount of tax obligations not paid to the Tax Office to be $165 million.
Mr Mills described Michael Cranston as one of the organisation’s “long-serving senior officers” who had “quite an illustrious [career] up until this point”.
Mr Mills said he was confident the Tax Office’s systems had not been compromised nor breached and the accused employees were not able to obtain any information.
“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,” Mr Mills said.
“The information I have to date shows no compromise of the operations of our administration. Our systems, controls and procedures worked effectively and we have been able to successfully isolate and protect the investigation, working well with the Australian Federal Police over many months to build a picture of what has been happening.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull congratulated the federal police for the investigation and “taking the action that they have”.
“We have zero tolerance – zero tolerance – for this type of conspiracy, this type of fraud, this type of abuse of public office,” he said.
“People who break our laws – whether it is endeavouring to defraud the Commonwealth and the tax system, whether it is planning terror plots, whether it’s trafficking in drugs – our police, our agencies, will catch them. Catch them, prosecute them and bring the full weight of the law down to bear on them.
“It is a credit to the police that the matter has been identified and charges have been laid. We are ever vigilant. You cannot be ever complacent about any aspect of integrity in public life or in government. So we have a relentless pursuit of corruption, malpractice, abuse of office. The AFP have a very keen focus on it, I can assure you, as has been demonstrated.”
Mr Turnbull described the alleged fraud as “very, very much to be regretted”, particularly the alleged involvement of a senior Tax Office official.
“Nobody should imagine that they can escape our law-enforcement agencies,” he said.
“We have zero tolerance for people who seek to defraud the Commonwealth of its revenue.
“As I said earlier, ideally we prefer taxes to be lower, but taxes must be paid. They are compulsory.”