The CEO of the Australian Government’s powerful Board of Taxation quietly exited the role on January 31 — just days after the eruption of the PwC tax scandal now sending reverberations worldwide.
That CEO was Christina Sahyoun.
Sahyoun, for entire term as Board of Taxation CEO, was simultaneously a current senior employee and tax partner of PwC Australia.
On “secondment” to the Board of Taxation — where she was paid an undisclosed taxpayer annual salary in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — Sahyoun has been an employee of PwC at all times since 2007.
“Sahyoun, PwC CEO Kevin Burrowes, and the Board of Taxation, are all refusing to say whether Sahyoun is one of the 63-plus people on PwC’s list”
Sahyoun herself, PwC Australia’s new CEO Kevin Burrowes, and the Board of Taxation, are all refusing to say whether Sahyoun is one of the 63-plus people on PwC’s “list” of current and former partners and staff to have received stolen Federal Government tax policy data.
On January 22 it was revealed that between 2013 and 2018 PwC took secret government tax data and sold it for millions of dollars to multinationals seeking to avoid Australian tax.
“For her entire term, the CEO of Australia’s Tax Board was a senior PwC employee”
The PwC partners who obtained the data, including disgraced accountant Peter Collins, since banned for two years, had been engaged by the Department of Treasury and Board of Taxation to provide “advice” on drafting new laws to prevent multinationals avoiding Australian tax.
Partners, including Collins, signed “confidentiality” clauses, but the data became stolen when it was given to others not authorised to receive it.
The Board of Taxation’s website states it provides “independent advice to the Government”, including “real-time advice on tax policy issues”, as part of “improving the design and operation of taxation laws”.
This week The Klaxon repeatedly asked Sahyoun whether she was one of the 63-plus on the PwC “list”, yet she consistently refused to say.
PwC Australia CEO Kevin Burrowes, who started last Monday, also repeatedly refused to say.
“PwC Australia’s new CEO Kevin Burrowes also refused to comment”
That’s despite former PwC tax partner Anthony Klein — who “resigned” from his role as a Board of Taxation director last month, the same day he received questions from The Klaxon over his PwC past — last week confirming he is one of those on the list.
PwC head of media relations Patrick Lane said the “vast majority” of those on its “list” had “not been found” to have “disseminated” confidential government information.
He said: “PwC is not releasing the names of individuals on the 63 list”.
“PwC is not releasing the names of individuals on the 63 list” – PwC’s Patrick Lane
PwC has gradually released the names of some of those involved in the tax leaks affair over several months, but only under intense public pressure.
On June 2, after months of requests, it provided the Senate inquiry into consultancies with the names of 63-plus partners and staff who received stolen government information.
Almost all of names were blacked out from the document, and although PwC also provided the inquiry with a non-redacted version, it is refusing the inquiry’s requests to make that non-redacted version public.
The Senate inquiry has said it is reluctant to make the unredacted list public – and so is pushing PwC to do so — for fear it might weaken potential criminal or other action against those named on it.
The Australian Government has four main tax agencies: the Australian Taxation Office (ATO); the Board of Taxation (BoT); the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) and the office of the Inspector-General of Taxation and Taxation Ombudsman (ITGO).
PwC tax partner Sahyoun’s LinkedIn profile states she was Board of Taxation CEO until “January”.
It says she started at PwC in 2007.
“PwC Australia Partner, Infrastructure and Real Assets — Tax; Feb 2007—Present”, it states.
As the nation reels from the PwC tax scandal, which is making worldwide headlines, the spotlight has fallen on Australia’s tax agencies and their connections to the tax industry they are supposed to police.
Of particular focus are the “Big Four” global accountancy and “consultancy” firms, PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte, who each make hundreds of millions of dollars a year in “consultancy” contracts from the Federal Government.
As revealed, that “Advisory Panel” was stacked with fossil fuel “tax specialists” and tax partners of the “Big Four” — including four current PwC tax partners.
The Board of Taxation website said the “high-level” Advisory Panel provided “real time policy advice to the (Federal) Treasurer”; was responsible for “advising on the quality and effectiveness of tax legislation”; and for “recommending improvements” to “support the general integrity and functioning of the tax system”.
Klein, who was tax partner with PwC for 17 years until July 2021, was appointed to a three-year term as Board of Taxation director in October 2021.
He had been a member of the “Advisory Panel” since at least January 2015.
Klein’s name was quietly scrubbed from the Board of Taxation website, as was the entire “Advisory Panel”.
Klein last week said he “resigned” from the Board of Taxation on June 23 — the same day The Klaxon put questions to him and the Board of Taxation — and investigations show the “Advisory Panel” was scrapped on June 29.
When asked whether Sahyoun had been appointed for a “set term” — ie whether a pre-determined end date had been stipulated in her initial employment contract — the Board of Taxation dodged the question.
It said: “The term of Ms Christina Sahyoun as the CEO of the Board of Taxation commenced on 30 August and concluded on 31 January 2023. Ms Sahyoun returned to PwC after completing her full term with the board”.
This carefully worded response does not answer the question: it states when Sahyoun started, when she finished, and that she departed after her “full-term”.
If no predetermined end date had been stated in her initial employment contract, it would still be accurate that Sahyoun had departed after her “full-term” — as her “term” would “end” whenever she departed.
Further, if a predetermined end date had been stated in her initial employment contract, and that date was later changed, the Board of Taxation’s statement that she departed after her “full-term” could still be technically accurate.
PwC spokesman Lane said Sahyoun’s “term as CEO of the Board of Taxation was always to January this year”.
“Her position and length of tenure was a matter of public record, and any inferences to the contrary are wrong,” Lane said.
Lane failed to produce any evidence to substantiate those claims, and The Klaxon has been unable to find any “public record” stipulating Sahyoun’s pre-determined departure date as Board of Taxation CEO.
We pushed the Board of Taxation for more information, noting it had not answered our question as to whether “Ms Sahyoun was appointed for a set-term and if so, when that set-term was established”.
We noted this was particularly important given Sahyoun had “made no mention of her departing in her CEO letter” and that the “Board of Taxation has made no disclosure anywhere” regarding her departure.
The Klaxon seeks responses to the unanswered questions.
The Board of Taxation responded Friday: “The board has nothing further to add”.
Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers is responsible for the Board of Taxation.
“Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers is responsible for the Board of Taxation”
The Board of Taxation consists of a board, and also draws a handful of staff — a “secretariat” — from the Department of Treasury.
The Board of Taxation’s chair, Rosheen Garnon, is a former long-time tax partner at KPMG, where she was “National Managing Partner for KPMG Australia’s Taxation Division” from 2009-2015.
Garnon has at all times refused to respond to The Klaxon’s request for comment.
The response Friday.
The Klaxon has requested comment from Garnon herself, or, in the absence of that, that responses provided be attributed to an actual person “for transparency and accountability”.
The Board of Taxation, and its Treasury Secretariat, have at all times refused, instead providing nameless emails with a statement that their response is to be attributed to an unnamed “spokesperson for the Board of Taxation”.
Other directors are paid $61,230 a year plus expenses.
Under its “Charter”, the Board of Taxation is to be made up of three “ex-officio” members, being the Treasury Secretary; the Commissioner of Taxation (the ATO boss); and the First Parliamentary Council, who is currently Meredith Leigh.
Other board members, of which there are now eight after Klein’s exit last month, are to be “appointed by the (Federal) Treasurer”.
Board of Taxation chair Rosheen Garnon.
They are: chair Garnon, who “has over 30 years of experience” in tax “having been a senior partner with KPMG” where she became tax partner in 2000; Julianne Jaques, a “Chartered Accountant and a Chartered Tax Adviser” who “previously worked as a solicitor with Freehills (now Herbert Smith Freehills) and an accountant with Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers)”; Andrea Laing, a tax accountant and former “Head of Tax for Shell Australia”, where she “spent more than two decades”; Tanya Titman, accountant and partner with major “consultancy” BDO where she has had “over 20 years’ experience in the accounting industry”; and Ian Kellock, a tax partner at global commercial law firm Ashurst, who has “25 years’ experience as a taxation professional”.
Until March, when his three-year term ended, another Board of Taxation director was PwC executive Chris Vanderkley.
Vanderkley is boss of “tax transparency” and “tax governance” at PwC Australia, where he has been since 2016 — including during his entire term as Board of Taxation director.
“Mr Vanderkley is currently Special Counsel at PwC leading their tax transparency and tax governance practice,” his bio at the Board of Taxation states.
“PwC Australia’s boss of tax transparency and tax governance Chris Vanderkley was Board of Taxation director until March”
Board of Taxation director until March, PwC’s Chris Vanderkley
“Taken together, the committee concludes that PwC engaged in a deliberate strategy over many years to cover up the breach of confidentiality and the plan by PwC personnel to monetise it,” the report said.
“Given the extent of the breach and subsequent cover-up now revealed on the public record, when is PwC going to come clean and begin to do the right thing?”
Before it was quietly axed on June 29, the Board of Taxation’s “Advisory Panel” included four current PwC tax partners.
Clockwise from bottom left: PwC Australia tax partners Ken Woo; Steve Ford; Hayden Scott; Nick Houseman; and former PwC tax partner Anthony Klein. Source: Supplied. Graphic: The Klaxon
They are PwC Australia Global Tax Controversy and Dispute Resolution Co-Leader Hayden Scott; PwC Australia Transfer Pricing and International Tax Partner Nick Houseman; PwC Australia Tax Partner Steve Ford; and PwC Australia Tax Partner Ken Woo.
All four refused to respond to detailed questions from The Klaxon.
The Board of Taxation held its most recent board meeting Friday.
Help us get the truth out from as little as $10/month.
The need for fearless, independent media has never been greater. Journalism is on its knees – and the media landscape is riddled with vested interests. Please consider subscribing for as little as $10 a month to help us keep holding the powerful to account.