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Australia Crown director 'shocked' at tax avoidance

11:21  22 june  2021
11:21  22 june  2021 Source:   aap.com.au

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Britain's Crown Dependencies are home to 76,000 companies - slightly fewer than one for every third person living there. It is many of these companies that will now have to prove their presence in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man is not merely a tax -dodging exercise. Pay a few pounds and you're likely to be able to access documents on things like changes of directors and addresses, and the company's founding documents. But campaigners say perhaps the most important bit of information - who ultimately owns the company - is kept out of the public domain.

George Osborne has said he was " shocked " to discover that some of the wealthiest people in the country pay "virtually no" income tax . The chancellor said he had seen "anonymised" tax returns submitted by multimillionaires using aggressive avoidance schemes to dramatically reduce their tax The main methods included writing off business losses, offsetting the cost of business mortgages, and borrowing on buy-to-let properties. Others took advantage of tax relief on donations to charity. "I was shocked to see that some of the very wealthiest people in the country have organised their tax affairs

A Crown director says he was "shocked" when he found out the James Packer-backed group may have avoided paying more than $200 million in tax to the Victorian government. 

a man wearing a suit and tie: A Crown director has told an inquiry he learned of possible tax avoidance through media coverage. © James Ross/AAP PHOTOS A Crown director has told an inquiry he learned of possible tax avoidance through media coverage.

Crown non-executive director Nigel Morrison on Tuesday said he first learned the company may have avoided paying the tax through media coverage of a royal commission on June 7.

"I was shocked by the magnitude," Mr Morrison told the inquiry into whether Crown can retain a licence for its Melbourne operations. 

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But sources from the Crown Dependencies told the BBC a proposed register of companies, revealing the true owners, may not work. They say it does not include trusts and the UK business community may object. Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Anguilla, Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle Alongside the new register, the government is also continuing to push for automatic information exchange with Britain's Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies. Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, told the BBC how it would work.

The tax computations of all large corporations, together with advice received from accountants and lawyers, key players in the global tax avoidance industry, should be filed at Companies House and made publicly available. The public availability of information is what will enable citizens to None of what I propose would offer a magical solution to the deeply embedded problems of tax avoidance , but would help to begin the development of an antidote. Prem Sikka is professor of accounting at the University of Sheffield and emeritus professor of accounting at the University of Essex.

"The magnitude was unbelievable."

The inquiry previously heard Crown minimised the amount of gaming tax it had to pay by deducting marketing costs, including free valet parking, from its pokies revenue.

This practice, which spans back to 2012, may have saved Crown Melbourne as much as $272 million in avoided tax. 

Other estimates have come in at $167 million and $200 million, while Crown's chief financial officer Alan McGregor says the figure stands at about $8 million. 

But Mr Morrison, who joined Crown as a director in March, said the issue of potential tax avoidance demonstrated a cultural problem at the company. 

"It tells you they had an attitude that, if they didn't think it was overly important and that they could get away with it, they did," he told the inquiry. 

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Yes, of course Google minimises its tax bill, by operating in Bermuda and Ireland, he said. Google had a duty to its shareholders to minimise its costs. And besides, the UK still benefited from Google's many free products, not least its search engine, which were engineered by thousands of employees in California. "What you've got is companies undoubtedly under competitive pressure to reduce cost, and tax is a cost," explains John Whiting, director of HMRC's Office of Tax Simplification.

He said HMRC had been ducking tax avoidance completely. He said it had powers to tackle any suspect tax returns of foreign-based companies. "If the breach is blatant, then they can act. The UK should close tax loopholes, but the truth is that the UK is responsible for one in five of the world's tax havens in the form of many of the crown dependencies and overseas territories. These tax havens are a leech, sucking resources from the UK and poor countries alike, so action needs to start with pulling them into line.


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The inquiry was told Crown sought legal advice about the tax issue in 2018 as it thought the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation was "digging around". 

Mr Morrison, who previously served as a Crown Melbourne executive from 1993 to 2000, said the company "clearly" lacked an "open and honest" relationship with the gaming regulator. 

Mr Morrison also revealed he had been left with an "impression" the company may have been underpaying tax following a 30-second chat with Crown head Xavier Walsh in March. 

Commissioner Ray Finkelstein asked Mr Morrison if he was concerned that Crown's executive chair, Helen Coonan, had known about this since February without disclosing it to him.

He said yes.

Commissioner Finkelstein, a former Federal Court judge, later asked Mr Morrison whether, hypothetically, directors should resign if they knew their company was underpaying tax but took no steps to fix it.

"In that case ... it's hard to argue they should remain," the Crown board member said.

Mark Mackay, Crown's executive general manager of gaming machines, previously said Crown adopted the deductions practice to make its loyalty program cheaper to run.

But he also said the company was concerned about the VCGLR finding out.

The royal commission was set up by Daniel Andrews' Labor government after a NSW inquiry found Crown unsuitable to operate its newly built casino in Sydney's Barangaroo.

Crown employees are set to give evidence in a closed hearing on Wednesday. 

The inquiry's public hearings are expected to continue on Thursday with evidence from Crown's security and surveillance head Craig Walsh. 

‘Fraudulent scam': Crown faces new money laundering scandal .
‘Fraudulent scam': Crown faces new money laundering scandal

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