Australians hunt Liechtenstein tax dodgers

Other News Materials 27 February 2008 06:03 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa ) - Australian tax authorities have raided 20 homes in a crackdown against people suspected of using bank accounts in Liechtenstein to avoid taxes, news reports said Wednesday.

Australian Tax Office (ATO) commissioner Michael D'Ascenzo said the ATO was working with its counterparts in Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, Britain and the United States to stop their nationals from using Liechtenstein bank accounts to evade taxation.

D'Ascenzo said that the ATO had been investigating tax avoidance using the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein even before German authorities bought a list of suspected tax dodgers who were clients of the Liechtensteinische Landesbank (LLD).

The seller was a former LLD employee and convicted swindler, named in newspaper reports as 42-year-old Heinrich Kieber, a Liechtenstein citizen. There are reports that under a witness-protection programme, Kieber is living in Australia under a new identity.

The ATO refuses to pay for information leading to the apprehension of tax cheats, but D'Ascenzo said that information-sharing agreements meant the ATO had access to Kieber's list through the other agencies.

"You might ask why we haven't made this public," D'Ascenzo told The Australian newspaper. "The fact that we have been working with a number of other tax administrators has been the reason we have kept this in the operational stages. It's quite sensitive."

The ATO is currently working through a list of local clients that it found on a laptop seized in 2004 in Melbourne from international tax guru Philip Egglishaw, who is based in the Channel Islands tax haven of Jersey.

Crocodile Dundee film star Paul Hogan was on that list, along with prominent sports and entertainment figures. Hogan, who last year left Australia to live in the United States, said he had settled outstanding tax bills.

D'Ascenzo said that Project Wickenby, a special investigation set up to trawl Egglishaw's files, could recoup 400 million Australian dollars (368 million US dollars) in lost tax receipts. He promised that more Australians linked to Egglishaw and his firm Strachans would face criminal charges.