Over 150 Australian Taxation Office (ATO) officials have found themselves under investigation as part of a major crackdown on GST fraud. This bombshell revelation comes from a recent report by the auditor-general, which also highlighted criminal proceedings and employment terminations resulting from the investigations.
The report, which spans 75 pages, discloses that Operation Protego, the response to a tax fraud scandal involving the payment of at least $2 billion in bogus GST refunds, targeted ATO officials as well. As of October 2023, the ATO confirmed that 150 officials suspected of Operation Protego behaviors have been investigated through the tax office’s own internal fraud procedures. The ATO has taken various actions in response, including termination of employment and criminal investigations.
While the report does not provide specific details about the alleged behaviors or the number of officials facing criminal investigation or termination, it does suggest that the GST fraud scam not only affected the Australian community but also rattled the ATO itself.
The report also sheds light on the scale of the GST fraud epidemic. Criminal investigations into the scam have resulted in over 100 arrests and 16 convictions as of August 31 last year. The fraud, which spread through TikTok videos claiming to allow perpetrators to obtain a ‘loan’ from the tax office, involved false payouts amounting to $2 billion as of June 30 last year. An additional $2.7 billion in suspect GST refunds were intercepted before reaching the fraudsters’ accounts. The ANAO report reveals that the maximum fraudulent refund was approximately $2.4 million, with attempted claims reaching as high as $32.3 million.
Efforts to recover the fraudulent refunds have been partially successful, with $123 million recouped by the ATO as of August 31, 2023. Methods such as bank account garnishing accounted for $67.6 million of the recoveries. Additionally, penalties totaling $120 million have been administered as of June 30, 2023. Statutory interest on unpaid liabilities has reached $220 million and continues to grow.
The report also highlights the involvement of innocent individuals in the scam, with some Australians having their identities stolen and used to lodge fictitious Business Activity Statements or coerced into participating or providing credentials to third parties. Operation Protego has identified over 57,000 people as participants in the scam.
The auditor-general’s report concludes with recommendations for the ATO, including revising roles and responsibilities for fraud prevention, conducting regular assessments of GST fraud risks, and developing a sophisticated response to large-scale fraud events. The ATO has agreed to implement all five recommendations.
In summary, the ATO’s investigation into GST fraud has uncovered misconduct by its own officials, resulting in criminal proceedings and employment terminations. The scale of the fraud is staggering, with billions of dollars in false payouts identified. The ATO is working to recover the funds and implement measures to prevent future fraud incidents.