Members of alleged tax fraud syndicate released on bail

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MAY 18: Adam Cranston leaves Sydney Police centre after being released on bail over a tax fraud on May 18, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Fairfax Media) Photo: Daniel MunozAfter watching police seize the vintage race car from his eastern suburbs apartment, Adam Cranston opted for a less-luxurious mode of transport to take him home after posting $300,000 bail.


Clutching his belongings in an Australian Federal Police-marked plastic bag, Mr Cranston loitered in the foyer of the Sydney Police Centre on Thursday afternoon as a wall of cameras waited outside. Unlike his co-accused, the 30-year-old embarked on the long walk towards the media throng solo, before jumping into a waiting Mitsubishi Magna.

He stayed silent as reporters threw questions at him about his alleged involvement in a $165 million fraud racket and his Australian Taxation Office deputy commissioner father.

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.

Adam Cranston was the fourth of his co-accused to walk out on bail on Thursday after an AFP sting targeting white collar crime a day earlier.

Dressed in a black sweat shirt and cargo shorts, Chris Gullian emerged from the police complex on Thursday afternoon with his father.

Initially responding “no comment”, he was asked what he did with the alleged proceeds of his role in the scheme.

“What money are you referring to guys?” he scoffed. “I’m from Sutherland.” He then cheekily suggested the cameramen following him best return to the front of the police station, as the “other guy” was coming out.

Mr Gullian is charged with dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and was released on $100,000 bail.

Daniel Rostankovski made a fumbled attempt to cover his face before his lawyer, who picked him up from the police station, advised him otherwise.

The 28-year-old, accused of recruiting straw directors in the alleged fraud scheme, opted for a walk up to Oxford Street in his white track pants rather than hailing a taxi outside the station.

Wahroonga tax lawyer and accountant Dev Menon, who police allege gave advice to syndicate members about how the scheme should be managed, was greeted by his mother and father as he walked out of Newtown police station.

Hours earlier the 33-year-old sighed relief as a magistrate granted him bail after his father, a solicitor and engineer, offered a $100,000 surety.

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‘Noble compromise’ will emerge on Indigenous recognition: Pearson

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Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has predicted a “noble compromise” will be reached on Indigenous recognition in the constitution, with a referendum question hitting a “sweet spot” between ambition and realism, and between conservatism and liberalism.

The Cape York leader believes a clear position will emerge from next week’s Indigenous constitutional convention at Uluru and has challenged the nation’s political leaders to have the courage to deal with it and “put a winnable proposition to the Australian people”.

Mr Pearson has also applauded a proposal from Warren Mundine to recognise local and regional Aboriginal bodies in the constitution as a “crucial contribution” ahead of the four-day convention.

“Warren is thinking practically about how to win a referendum on substantive constitutional recognition. His contribution is important, and takes the discussion to the next level,” Mr Pearson will say at an event to launch the idea on Friday.

Mr Mundine, the former head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, has proposed a variation on the more contentious idea of enshrining a national Indigenous body in the constitution as a voice to Parliament.

Conservatives are more likely to embrace the Mundine variation because it would not involve setting up a new apparatus and it aims to empower existing bodies. Whether it will meet the expectations of convention delegates is unclear.

It has support from Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who described it as “a much closer representation of what mainstream Australian would support and accept”.

In an essay outlining his proposal, Mr Mundine writes: “Each of our mobs needs to get governance in place. It’s got to be transparent, and it has to be very clearly directed.

“Then the government should start negotiating with the mob to reach an agreement which could be the basis for the Parliament establishing a local body for each mob according to the agreement it has reached with the government.

“The constitution should require the Parliament to do this. That would provide true recognition for each of our mobs.”

Mr Pearson said the Mundine proposal resonated with his long-held belief that self-determination, correctly understood, is about our peoples’ right to take responsibility. “That is what constitutional recognition should structurally encourage and enable,” he said.

He told Fairfax Media he had attended at least seven of 12 Indigenous dialogues leading up the the convention and is “staggering pleased” with what has emerged, and with the leadership shown at the dialogues by Pat Anderson and Megan Davis.

“We’ve had very significant Indigenous female leadership over the decades, but I think this is the one time where I think two women have really carried the leadership on this process,” he said.

“I see next week as 12 pieces of the jigsaw from all parts of the country coming together into a united position, a single whole. The outcome I’m hoping for is a very clear statement of what Indigenous Australia wants in a reform agenda.

“The process following Uluru has got to involve Indigenous representatives sitting down and negotiating with the parliamentary parties about what specific referendum question is to be put in a bill and put to the Australian people.”

Pressed on the Mundine proposal, Mr Pearson said there had been overwhelming support for a representative body or voice to the Parliament at the dialogues and he expected there to be varied views on what form it should take.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have “respectfully declined” an invitation to attend next week’s historic convention, wary that their presence could reduce the prospects of a successful outcome.

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Rolf Harris to be released from prison ahead of court appearance

London: Rolf Harris will be released from prison on Friday but back in court by Monday to face a fresh trial over allegations of groping teenage girls.


Harris is to be released from Stafford prison on Friday, having served time for convictions in 2014, but has been ordered to appear in-person at court on Monday where he is facing four counts of indecent assault.

The 87-year-old has been attending his trial via video link which the jury learnt for the first time on Thursday was from Stafford Prison in Britain’s West Midlands. Judge Deborah Taylor granted the Australian entertainer bail on Thursday after it was sought by his barristers and not opposed by the prosecution.

The judge urged the jury, comprising seven women and five men, not to let Harris’ priors convictions or the fact that he had been released on bail affect their judgment of the evidence they are currently hearing at Southwark Crown Court.

“He will no longer be appearing via video link and will be attending what remains of this trial in person from Monday next week,” Judge Taylor said.

Harris is pleading not guilty to all four charges involving three teenage girls relating to three separate incidents dating between 1971 and 1983.

All three women have now testified to the trial which is in its fourth day. The women, who came forward with their allegations independently of each other, all said that in 2012 they told their friends and families that “Rolf will be next” when it was revealed the BBC identity Jimmy Savile was a sexual predator.

The third accuser told the jury that in 1983 when she was 13-years of age, Harris had approached her in a green room at a filming of a BBC Saturday Superstore program and touched her right breast, asking “do you often get molested on a Saturday morning?”

She said the incident lasted about four or five seconds, after which Harris walked away. “I was in shock because I couldn’t comprehend what has just happened.”

She said she immediately told her sister who dismissed her saying “that’s Rolf Harris, don’t be silly.” “She just wouldn’t believe it because it was Rolf Harris,” she said.

The woman said that response had led her not to report the incident. “From my point of view no one was taking it seriously so I didn’t take it any further at that stage.”

But the woman said over the years she would tell “countless” friends and family, whenever Harris came on the television, that “he’s a pervert.”

The court heard the woman first contacted police about the matter on July 7, 2014 which was three days after Harris had been sentenced. She said when Mr Harris had been arrested in 2013 her friends and family had phoned her with the news but she remained reluctant to come forward. “I still felt I wouldn’t be believed,” she said, under cross-examination by Harris’ barrister Stephen Vullo QC.

But she said she felt empowered by Harris’ conviction and began to feel “I might be vindicated.” She emailed police working on Operation Yewtree – the investigation into Savile and others.

“I can’t be the only person, I’ll come forward and offer my help should it be needed,” she told the jury. Her cross-examination continues when the trial resumes on Monday. She is giving evidence via a video link, meaning she will not have to see the musician in person, when he attends his hearing.

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Gallen claims his form warrants NSW Origin selection

He may be in representative retirement, but Paul Gallen reckons his form would still warrant inclusion in the State of Origin opener as he jokingly said he plans to holiday in Queensland during the representative period.


Gallen and NSW certainty Andrew Fifita helped the Sharks wear down a tiring Johnathan Thurston-less Cowboys at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Thursday night as both ran for almost 200 metres, according to Champion Data.

Gallen made a representative swansong in the final City-Country clash – which descended into an almost farce given the lack of players available – and said he thought he would be capable of joining the likes of Fifita, James Maloney, Wade Graham and Jack Bird in sky blue if he hadn’t hung up the boots after last year’s series loss.

“I think I’m playing good enough,” Gallen said. “I’m not going to say I regret [representative retirement] because I made a commitment to the club, but I think [I deserve to be there if available].

“There are a lot of good young guys there though. I’m back to being a NSW fan. I think if we win the first game we’ll win the series.”

Gallen also gave the nod to Sharks flyer Valentine Holmes to tip out Brisbane’s Corey Oates for the vacant Queensland wing spot as Cronulla prepare to lose up to five players to the interstate series.

“He’s an Australian player, he’s playing well and he brings the ball back hard,” Gallen said.

Fifita inspired a Sharks comeback as they came from 14 points down at half-time to chalk up just their second win at home this season – the other was a one-point cliffhanger against the cellar-dwelling Knights – as Maloney’s boot proved the difference in the 18-14 win.

Gallen described Fifita as “the best forward in the competition” with increased consistency after he set up Chad Townsend’s try.

“That’s what Andrew can do,” Flanagan said. “He showed some really sharp feet in the first half and his second stint was probably his best stint. Overall he changed the game for us and it was a fantastic effort.

“The frustrating thing for me is to start better and not have to go into those slogs. They were awful in the second half then we were awful in the first half.”

North Queensland coach Paul Green lamented his side’s last-tackle options in the second half after Michael Morgan – who could fill Thurston’s No.6 Maroons jumper for should his teammate fail to recover from a shoulder injury – sparked the first-half lead.

“It’s one of your fundamentals of footy,” Green said. “We were in a position to win that game, but we put ourselves under too much pressure. You really need to make sure you get out of your end and they were coming to get us. All in all I was really proud of the effort we showed … but we still put ourselves under too much pressure.”

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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.


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.

Nine people were charged with offences relating to the fraud syndicate. iFrameResize({resizedCallback : function(messageData){}},’#pez_iframeATO’);

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Traders welcome return of volatility

A sharp pull-back in US equity markets, sparked by chatter US President Donald Trump might face impeachment proceedings, didn’t alarm professional investors and analysts who said a correction of this sort had been long overdue.


Wall Street’s S&P500 shed 1.8 per cent on Wednesday, sparking an 0.8 per cent sell-off on the ASX.

Fast-moving developments kept US political issues front-of-mind during the session, with news emerging over the morning that the US Justice Department had appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign team and Russia.

But professional traders saw a silver lining, welcoming the up-tick in market volatility, which had been eerily low of late.

Last week, the Vix index – the so-called “fear gauge” for Wall Street that tracked implied volatility through options pricing in the S&P500 – traded near its lowest level for 25 years. Periods of low sharemarket volatility tended to concern professional traders, who worried a sense of complacency was infecting markets, leaving them overvalued and poorly equipped to deal with shocks.

With market volatility at historic lows, US investors had been “sleepwalking” into the sell off, ANZ analysts said on Thursday morning. The 1.8 per cent Wall Street drop – the largest in eight months – caused the Vix index to jump a huge 46 per cent.

“[Low volatility] can really lure investors into a false sense of security, thinking that all the risk is dissipated and it’s blue skies ahead,” said Perpetual’s head of multi-asset investment strategy Matt Sherwood.

“Low volatility can itself become a high-risk environment, because people can start overpaying for assets. This is a healthy reminder that, even in a growing climate, risk needs to be managed in portfolios, not only in terms of asset allocations but also stock selection, regional exposures, balance sheets and so on.

“Markets with low implied volatility are usually the best time to put protection on. When markets are rising, sometimes people say you don’t need it. They forget markets don’t always go up in a straight line.”

The fall reversed some of the gains made through several days of record closes on Wall Street, and so could be seen as a necessarily pull-back, Citi director of equities sales Karen Jorritsma said.

“If you look at what our US desk is saying, there’s no sense of panic coming out of them at this stage,” she said. “And globally, some of our clients are seeking value and coming back in, to add reflation exposure cheaply given the pull-back.

“It’s an opportunity to step back into a market that’s been overheated. Overall, the guys here are pretty relaxed. It’s too early to say if this’ll last.”

Mr Sherwood expected the sell-off to be short-lived, provided nothing emerged that improved the odds of an impeachment.

“The key for markets is the longevity of the crisis and how much serious political water President Trump takes on board,” he said. “The market downturn should be short term unless indictable evidence arises.

“If it does, the tax reform agenda will be out, the infrastructure spending agenda will be out and the regulation reducing growth agenda will go also. It will mean Washington’s sole focus will be on whether to impeach the President rather than focusing on growth-friendly reforms that markets can rally behind.”

BT Investment Management’s head of fixed interest Vimal Gor said: “The markets are continuing to question, with more urgency, the effectiveness of [Mr] Trump in getting through his manifesto items.”

Reflecting this heightened uncertainty, investors piled back into bonds, as yields on US Treasuries, which move inversely to the price, dropping as low 2.21 per cent overnight. Mr Gor labelled it “a material move”.

Meanwhile, futures contracts showed the market pricing on the odds of a US Fed interest rate hike had trended lower over the day, from 70 per cent to 60 per cent, highlighting the greater economic uncertainty. The US dollar index, which measured the US currency against those of its 10 largest trading partners, fell 0.8 per cent on Wednesday before recovering slightly by early Thursday. The Australian dollar rose in response.

This may impact local companies that earn in US dollars. Such companies have had a good run of late, but may be punished as investors reduce their US exposures off the back of the US dollar declines.

But the broader impact on locally listed companies at this stage looks limited.

“I think for us the situation in North Korea is also front of mind,” Ms Jorritsma said. “It’s never great for the ASX to see a Wall Street pull-back, but there are other issues for us as well.”

While remaining broadly comfortable with the sell-off, several investors pondered if the political headwinds caused by the US President could overwhelm the positive reflation trade his election unleashed.

“We’re four months into a four-year term,” Mr Sherwood said. “Normally at this time it’s a political honeymoon, approvals are sky high and things are getting done. But with [Mr] Trump there’s already mounting political risk. So it tells you the next three years and eight months are not going to be quiet.”

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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.


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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To Bach and beyond with sublime Ms Hewitt

MAGNIFICENT: Angela Hewitt gave a impressive performance at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music on Thursday night as part of Musica Viva’s 2017 International Concert Series.I arrived at Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt’s Musica Viva performance at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music on Thursday night expecting Bach.


She is, after all, synonymous with the German composer through extensive, celebrated recordings and is halfway through a global Odyssey to play every piece of Bach keyboard music ever composed. Which is a lot.

She has been playing Bach since she was 3 or 4, and hearing it before that.

Her father was the organist and choirmaster at Ottowa’s Christ Church Cathedral, and a traveling soloist known for his Bach.

Her mother was a piano teacher who reinforced in her the significance of the German composer, and so Ms Hewitt is quite literally forged in Bach.

In the first section of Program 1on Thursday night, as she played the First and Fourth Partitas, it was as if time stood still as she exhibited mastery of works that have been imbued in her since childhood.

Cascading, mellifluous, brilliant.

The variations kept coming after the break in Scarlati’s Sonatas in D and B major, and the thought did cross my mind that “here we go again’’, but as we moved into Scarlati’s E and A major Sonatas there was a definite shift in the style and tempo.

The “build” crescendoed with performance fireworks in Ravel’s Sonatine and Chabrier’s Bourree fantasque –two beautifully complex works performed with trademark assuredness and clarityby Ms Hewitt, all from memory.

Profoundly impressive.

It made me wonder how she keeps a lid on the lightning during those quieter, but no less complex,Bach pieces.

As she said in a talk after the show, Bach is the perfect vehicle for any pianist to warm up with, and in the grand tradition of that deeply religious composer, I suppose it’sall about keeping the faith.

The audience response at the conclusion of the Chabrier piece was immediate and rapturous.

Debussy’sClairde lune loomed almost a cliche when announced as the encore, but in Ms Hewitt’s hands it proved the perfect nightcap to an intoxicating evening of virtuosity.

Further to thegenerous and engaging chat after the show, Ms Hewitt expanded on how she deals with performance nerves and memorising difficult works, two issues she clearly has notrouble with.

(Hard work and preparation are the key, if you were wondering.)

This is Ms Hewitt’s second national recital tour for Musica Viva. She has further shows at Melbourne (May 20), Perth (May 23), Adelaide (May 25) and Sydney (May 27).

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Fifita-inspired Sharks mount comeback to down Cowboys

Sharks 18 Cowboys 14


An Andrew Fifita-inspired Sharks woke from a first-half slumber to end a baffling run of home defeats, reeling in a 14-point deficit to down a Johnathan Thurston-less Cowboys on Thursday night.

Staring down the barrell of a fourth loss from just five matches at Southern Cross Group Stadium this season – their only win in the Shire previously in 2017 was a one-point nailbiter over wooden spoon fancies Newcastle – Shane Flanagan’s premiers mounted a second-half surge to win 18-14.

Fifita all but carved his name in stone for Laurie Daley’s NSW side for the State of Origin opener, tormenting a tiring Cowboys and setting up a crucial second-half try for Chad Townsend.

A flat Cronulla were forced to do it the hard way though, trailing 14-0 at the break before struggling halves James Maloney – a certainty to line up alongside Fifita at Suncorp Stadium – and Townsend unshackled an often pedestrian Sharks attack.

Fifita’s fixture as a part of Daley’s front-row rotation was never in doubt with another barnstorming display – and he needed time to find some support acts as the Sharks overcame another error-strewn display.

But like they have on so many occasions previously they found a way to win when far from their best.

Flanagan is likely to lose Fifita, Maloney, Wade Graham, Jack Bird and possibly Valentine Holmes to State of Origin selection and has to face the Bulldogs and Tigers without them during the representative period. And he somehow has to figure out how to win more consistently at a ground which once used to be a fortress.

Unbeaten on the road and trailing only fellow grand finalists Melbourne on the ladder, the Sharks wore down a brave Cowboys who rode Michael Morgan’s first-half masterclass to the brink of another upset.

Given the history between the sides – they had met in three of the last four finals series – it should have been no surprise there were a few twists and turns late in this one.

Sosaia Feki had a forgettable first half, but scrambled over for the matchwinner with less than 15 minutes left to keep the Sharks firmly entrenched inside the top four.

Despite training with the squad on Wednesday, Thurston’s absence from the team list means it will be almost two months by the time he pulls on a Cowboys jumper again. But it would be a brave man to suggest he won’t don the Queensland maroon in a fortnight’s time.

Morgan, the reluctant conductor, was again peerless for the second Thursday night in a row against a Sydney powerhouse expected to handle a Thurston-less Cowboys who again played above their weight.

While it was a first 40 minutes to remember for Morgan, it was 40 to forget for Feki. He bobbled an inch-perfect James Maloney kick when it appeared easier to score than not, crabbed too far infield as Kyle Feldt set up Ben Hampton for the second try and then was outleapt by his opposite number for the third.

Prior to that Feldt’s wing partner Antonio Winterstein was aided by a crisp pass from Morgan – who also booted the most improbable grass-cutting 40-20 – to open the scoring.

While in general play the Cowboys barely missed a beat without Thurston, they can’t welcome his right boot back fast enough after Ethan Lowe forfeited goalkicking responsibility with a comedic shot at penalty goal from almost next to the posts.

Feldt duly stepped in at the next chance and it was only Maloney’s perfect goalkicking which split the sides.

It was only fitting Morgan’s frustrated opposite Maloney would throw the Sharks a lifeline early in the second half when he danced over from close range, the hosts’ at time impotent attack finally finding a crack in the Cowboys wall.

And it was Maloney’s halves partner Chad Townsend, himself enduring a difficult night, who dragged the Sharks within two points after Fifita pierced the line and popped a one-handed offload to the waiting No.7. Then the ultimate redemption.

Tormented in the first half, Feki tiptoed down the sideline to avoid the grasp of Feldt to put the Sharks in front for good.

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Maloney, Townsend, Feki tries; Maloney 3 goals) def North Queensland Cowboys 14 (Winterstein, Hampton, Feldt tries; Feldt goal) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Referees: Ashley Klein, Alan Shortall. Crowd: 8557.

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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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