Monday, May 15, 2023

Luke Sayers missing from PwC tax scandal - PwC’s Tom Seymour to exit, Switkowski to run tax leaks inquiry

Torture by a thousand cuts: Why the PwC scandal won't die

PwC targeted Apple, Google, Microsoft with leaked tax plan

Luke Sayers invests in hot security start-up

PwC’s Tom Seymour to exit, Switkowski to run tax leaks inquiry


  • Why it matters: PwC used secret government info to advise clients how to sidestep new tax laws
  • Ex-PwC tax partner Peter Collins was helping Treasury and ATO develop tax laws
  • PwC’s global leadership has now intervened and is doing its own review
  • Three PwC Australia leaders have stepped down but remain at the firm
  • There are calls for PwC to be banned from government contracts over the scandal

Former PwC Australia chief executive Tom Seymour will retire from the partnership at the end of September, the firm has announced, while former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski will lead an independent review into the firm over its tax leaks scandal.

Former PwC Australia boss Tom Seymour will leave the firm in September. Michael Quelch

Dr Switkowski will examine all aspects of the firm’s governance, accountability and culture and report back to the big four consulting firm by September. The firm has pledged to make a summary of his key recommendations public.

It’s understood that the firm’s leadership is prepared to ask more partners to retire over the tax leaks and has not placed any limit on the areas that Dr Switkowski can investigate.

“We are committed to learning from our mistakes and ensuring that we embrace the high standards of governance, culture and accountability that our people, clients and external stakeholders rightly expect,” acting CEO Kristin Stubbins said.

“Dr Switkowski will have access to all the people and information he needs to conduct a rigorous and robust review. We look forward to receiving his report and acting swiftly on its recommendations.”

The tax leaks saga became public in January when The Australian Financial Review revealed that the Tax Practitioners Board, which regulates the country’s tax agents, had terminated the registration of former PwC tax partner Peter Collins for sharing confidential information about the government’s tax plans with other partners and staff.

The Senate published a cache of internal PwC emails on May 2 showing partners discussing a marketing project to target US tech companies and offering a “work plan” to deal with new tax laws for which Mr Collins was providing advice to Treasury.

Ziggy Switkowski Paul Jones

Those emails showed that PwC charged $2.5 million in fees to advise 14 clients how to sidestep new tax avoidance laws in 2016, relying on the confidential Treasury information.

Last week, Mr Seymour and two other leadersstepped down from their respective leadership roles at the firm.

“The independent review will look at the way in which decisions are made and overseen within PwC, including how financial goals, values and strategic objectives are balanced and prioritised,” the firm said in a statement.

“It will examine the way in which partners and staff are held accountable for their responsibilities, as well as assess the values and behaviours that exist at all levels within the firm...we will not hesitate to take the recommended actions, including, where appropriate, exiting further people and partners from the firm.”

Read more about the PwC leak

Edmund Tadros leads our coverage of the professional services sector. He is based in our Sydney newsroom.Connect with Edmund on Twitter. Email Edmund at
Neil Chenoweth is an investigative reporter for The Australian Financial Review. He is based in Sydney and has won multiple Walkley Awards. Connect with Neilon Twitter. Email Neil at

Rear Window

Luke Sayers missing from PwC tax scandal

Joe AstonColumnist

It’s now been a week since PricewaterhouseCoopers CEO Tom Seymourwas disappeared off Sydney Heads (à la Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero in The Sopranos) and the global firm’s fixers were dispatched to Australia to expedite the bloodletting.

Former PwC CEO Luke Sayers. Louise Kennerley

When the Camorra crew arrives at headquarters in their surgical gloves, you know things are getting serious.

Now entering its fifth month, PwC’s tax leak scandal is making international headlines and threatening to embroil multinational tech giants Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft, all targeted by PwC. The 14 clients who took up PwC’s advice are still to be named by the Australian Senate.

Acres of newsprint and yet so far, somehow, nobody has uttered the name of the elephant in the room: Luke Sayers.

Sayers is there and thereabouts on a whole lot of shiny Melbourne stuff. He’s president of the Carlton Football Club and runs his own consulting shop that trades on his emetic friendships with Daniel Andrews and the billionaire Fox family. Call him the Eddie McGuire of professional services.

But Sayers served as chief executive of PwC Australia from 2012 until handing over to Seymour in May 2020. His leadership of the firm, therefore, covered the entire relevant period of its misconduct in relation to the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL).

The Sayers era will also be remembered for PwC’s dubious application of legal professional privilege to improperly shield its tax advice to clients (like Brazilian meat processor JBS) from the authorities. The Federal Court is still adjudicating this.

Just like Seymour, Sayers ran PwC’s tax and legal practice before he was elected CEO. Sayers continues to draw an epic pension from PwC even after setting up a competitor to it.

Sayers declined to comment on Monday but is privately maintaining that before he left the firm in 2020, he was never made aware of disgraced tax partner Peter Collins’ breach of confidentiality with Treasury between 2014 and 2017.

With such glorious skills in legalistic self-erasure, it’s like he never left! Tommy Seymour really learnt at the feet of the master.

Whether or not Sayers knew specifically about the confidentiality agreement that Collins signed with Treasury is difficult to prove or disprove, but ultimately beside the point. In 2018, while Sayers was CEO, PwC was compelled to furnish the ATO with internal email correspondence between 53 tax partners about the MAAL avoidance schemes they had designed and pitched to clients before the MAAL legislation had been released publicly. Treasury was also made aware of the issue at that point.

That was only after PwC used (purported) legal professional privilege to decline the ATO’s request for its correspondence with clients on the same subject (why didn’t the ATO take thatto Federal Court?).

Sayers would presumably like us to believe that nobody at PwC – or, indeed, the Tax Office – thought to tell him this was going on. It slipped their minds. Happens every day! It occurred under his nose, so beyond his line of sight.

Livid partners

Today, many of PwC’s 900 partners are livid that they were asked to vote for Seymour as CEO in February 2020 without this matter being disclosed to them. It’s understood Sayers is also saying privately he stayed completely out of the election for his successor, leaving it to the board of partners led by chairman Peter van Dongen.

It is inconceivable that the ATO and PwC did not engage in severe and high-level conversations at the time the ATO requisitioned those emails.

Curiously, the ATO didn’t refer Collins to the Tax Practitioners Board until July 2020, after the TPB had “received intelligence” about him in April 2020. The widening of the Collins investigation to capture PwC was the TPB’s decision, not the ATO’s. And the ATO opposed the release of the TPB’s report into the matter to a Senate committee, then sought to block the release of PwC’s internal emails to the Senate committee.

All of this might suggest that, in fact, PwC and the ATO, around 2018 and 2019, had quietly reached an informal agreement about how to deal with this matter, and that the ATO remains eager to avoid such a soft bargain becoming public, particularly if it didn’t even provide for any penalty against Collins himself.

It may or may not be relevant that PwC partner Neil Fuller retired in July 2019. He had travelled to the United States in 2015 to personally pitch PwC Australia’s anti-MAAL scheme to big tech companies.

In the ATO’s legal privilege case against PwC over its JBS tax advice, the judge refers to Fuller as a “rover” – “being an experienced tax partner who was available to tax engagement partners as a resource on client matters, and was based in Sydney”.

In the cache of emails released by the Senate two weeks ago, one reads that “[REDACTED] will continue as a Rover, but with a main focus on the North American market. It is anticipated that [REDACTED] will join other partners in each client visit where the opportunities are seen as significant.”

It’s even been suggested that the ATO was asked in 2019 whether Seymour could be a candidate in the firm’s CEO election given this secret stain on the tax practice he ran, and the ATO gave him its blessing. It’d almost be worth recovering Seymour from the bottom of Sydney Harbour for his take on that one.

The ATO, like Sayers, is saying nothing. The ATO and Sayers and PwC’s FIFO crack team of Harvey Keitels from Pulp Fiction – they’re all doing what Seymour couldn’t, which is taking care of these horrors behind closed doors, before they take care of you. Then you walk away slowly and melt into the crowd...

Joe Aston has helmed The Australian Financial Review's Rear Window column since 2012. He is based in Sydney. Connect with Joe on Facebook and Twitter.Email Joe at