Hundreds of wealthy Australians holding secret Swiss bank accounts are being urged to come forward – or face action by the tax office.
The tax avoidance or minimisation strategies of the world’s rich are under the spotlight after leaked files dating from 2010 revealed global banking giant HSBC helped its high net worth customers dodge millions of dollars in taxes.
The files, released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, also show the Swiss arm of HSBC had almost 500 clients linked to Australia, with 856 accounts and total combined holdings of about $US959.2 million ($A1.24 billion). Some of those identified include model Elle MacPherson and the late Kerry Packer.
But the Australian Taxation Office says it was already aware of 261 accounts after being given a disk from a tax treaty partner five years ago. It believes this is the same information published by the ICIJ. The ATO’s own investigation since then has allowed it to claw back more than $30 million in unpaid taxes through reviews and audits.
“We strongly encourage those with undeclared assets and income to come forward now,” it said in a statement. ”The reporting by the ICIJ of the HSBC Swiss data highlights that no taxpayer is safe from being uncovered.”
A tax treaty between Australia and Switzerland came into force late last year and one of the exchanges of information so far relates to 14 Swiss bank accounts held by Australians.
“The ATO … will continue to take action on those taxpayers who fail to pay the right amount of tax,” it said.
An amnesty in 2014 gave Australians with undeclared bank accounts a chance to come forward. About 70 taxpayers revealed their HSBC accounts. Their previously unreported income is expected to surpass $600 million, when it is fully processed, while their assets could top $4 billion.
It’s not illegal for Australians to hold Swiss bank accounts, but the ICIJ report raises concerns about global tax minimisation and avoidance schemes, particularly by multinational companies.