An alleged mastermind of PwC’s tax leaks scheme was just weeks ago providing training seminars and legal advice to the highest levels of Australia’s tax authorities – and was personally praised by the Taxation Ombudsman.
Former PwC Australia tax partner Michael Bersten — one of the four former partners PwC yesterday named as alleged masterminds in the scandal — just weeks ago ran a three-day “national online training” course for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
“Day 1 of our national online training for the ATO on tax administration law (over 3 days),” Bersten posted to LinkedIn.
The next week Bersten gave — for the first time — a seminar to the office of the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO), which oversees both the ATO and the Tax Practitioners Board.
“Day 1 today delivering a three day program on tax administration law to the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman team in their Sydney office,” Bersten posted to LinkedIn about a month ago.
That program covered “important issues” going to the heart of Australia’s tax law and power structures, including a “a big focus” on laws around “IGTO investigations” and the powers of the Taxation Commissioner, which were “currently under investigation by the IGTO”.
“A big focus on administrative law principles in IGTO investigations and reviews, with some deep dives into important issues like the Commissioner’s general power of administration (currently under investigation by the IGTO),” writes Bersten, a barrister.
“We had some very animated and interesting discussions especially of true to life case studies”.
“We had some very animated and interesting discussions especially of true to life case studies” – Micheal Bersten
Michael Bersten delivers a three-day seminar in the Sydney offices of the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman. Source: LinkedIn
Karen Payne, who is both Australia’s Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman, responded: “Thanks Michael…very important for the IGTO to understand these principles as part of our investigations”.
“Also important for ATO officials making decisions and tax practitioners representing taxpayers.
“Looking forward to continuing these important discussions,” writes Payne.
“Thanks Michael…very important for the IGTO to understand these principles as part of our investigations” – Taxation Ombudsman Karen Payne
Bersten’s posts, and Payne’s responses, are stamped as posted to LinkedIn “1 month” ago. (LinkedIn posts do not carry specific dates beyond a handful of days).
Bersten and Payne have been approached for comment.
“Very important for the IGTO to understand these principals,” says Tax Ombudsman Karen Payne. Source: LinkedIn
PwC has been embroiled in scandal since the Tax Practitioners Board in January revealed that former PwC tax partner Peter Collins had leaked confidential Federal Government plans to combat multinational tax evasion.
Collins, who left PwC late last year amid the TPB investigation, was banned from practicing for two years.
Treasury had engaged Collins starting in 2014 to assist in drafting new laws, but despite confidentiality agreements Collins shared the secret information widely within PwC, which then sold it to multinationals seeking to avoid Australian tax.
Internally, PwC called its illegal scheme “Project North America”.
The scandal erupted on May 2 when the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) handed a Senate inquiry a 144-page cache of PwC emails discussing the illegal scheme (although it had redacted all names other than Peter Collins).
Yesterday, following weeks of demands, PwC Australia acting CEO Kristin Stubbins handed the Senate inquiry the names of 63 PwC partners and staff who received emails about the scheme.
It also gave it the names of 9 partners that PwC last week said had been “stood down” over the scandal.
Those 72 names have not yet been released.
Bersten posts to Linkedin. Source: LinkedIn
An internal email to PwC staff yesterday afternoon named four former partners allegedly involved in the scheme, including Colin Peters (named by the TPB in January).
“The four former partners include; Michael Bersten, Peter Collins, Neil Fuller, and Paul McNab,” Stubbins wrote.
“[Former PwC Australia CEO] Tom Seymour no longer has any role in our firm, and we will take appropriate action for these individuals when our investigation is complete.
(PwC has confirmed the email, which was first reported by The Australian Financial Review).
Bersten’s bio states he was a tax partner at PwC from 2004 until July 2018 and is currently deputy chairman of the Law Council of Australia’s Tax Committee.
“I was a senior Partner within the PwC Australia Tax Controversy & Dispute Resolution Group for 14 years having founded the practice,” it states.
“I acted in many of the major tax controversies in Australia, predominantly in the publicly listed and global business sectors and also with high wealth individuals”.
Bersten’s recent post about his three-day ATO “national online training”. Source: LinkedIn
Former PwC tax partner McNab worked at PwC from 1997 to 2020, before becoming a tax partner at global law firm DLA Piper.
“PwC has today released my name as one of four former partners they say were involved in confidentiality breaches. It is noteworthy that the firm has taken this action to name former partners only,” McNab said yesterday in a statement posted to LinkedIn.
“It is noteworthy that the firm has taken this action to name former partners only” — Paul McNab
“At all times I worked with my clients to comply with Australian law, and not avoid it”.
Last night it was announced McNab had departed DLA Piper.
“Paul decided to do the honourable thing in the midst of this media storm and act in the interest of the firm,” a spokesman for McNab reportedly said.
Former PwC tax partner Neil Fuller is alleged to have gone to the US in 2015 armed with secret government information Collins had obtained from Treasury.
Fuller allegedly used the confidential material to pitch to the head offices of dozens of US tech giants with Australian operations.
Fuller’s LinkedIn bio, which appears to have been deleted, stated he retired from PwC in July 2019, after 31 years at the firm.
Searches show in Fuller’s last few years at PwC he was based outside Australia, including in Canada.
He listed as a speaker at January 2018 medical conference in the Canadian ski resort Whistler.
On the bill “Neil Fuller, PwC Global Tax, Canada” is listed as giving an “Experts’ Forum” address titled: “Issues in international taxation including a look at the Fonseca Panama Papers”.
Former PwC tax partner Neil Fuller. Source: PwC
The Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (ITGO) is an “independent statutory office” that “strives to improve the administration of tax laws for the benefit of community”.
Its website states it provides “independent advice and assurance” through “investigation, review and reporting” that “Australian taxation administration laws are operating effectively and consistently with community expectations”.
“The IGTO provides independent advice to government, engaging with Parliamentary committees and relevant Ministers (especially the Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Superannuation and Financial Services) as appropriate”.
It was created in May 2015 by the Federal Coalition, which merged the Office of the Inspector-General of Taxation (which it had created in 2003) with the Taxation Ombudsman (which until then had been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Ombudsman).
“From 1 May 2015, the IGT also became the Taxation Ombudsman (IGTO) to help address their complaints about the administrative actions of the ATO or the TPB,” IGTO’s website states.
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