Thursday, May 11, 2023

Treasury weighs criminal case against former PwC partner


By Colin Kruger

Treasury has confirmed it is reviewing whether a criminal investigation should be pursued against the former PwC partner behind the tax avoidance scandal engulfing the firm, in light of the damning evidence that was made public last week.

“Treasury is further considering the Commonwealth’s position on this matter given the new material released by the TPB [Tax Practitioners Board],” a spokeswoman said.

Former PwC partner Peter Collins has been banned as a tax practitioner.

Former PwC partner Peter Collins has been banned as a tax practitioner.

The board has banned Peter Collins, the former PwC partner who leaked confidential government tax plans, from acting as a tax practitioner until next year.

A 148-page document was publicly released last week detailing the evidence from the board’s investigation which revealed how confidential information on plans to combat multinational tax avoidance was shared widely among other staff and partners within the multinational firm, and marketed to clients.

At a Senate estimates inquiry in March, Greens senator Nick McKim asked Treasury if it had referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police for any potential criminal breaches, and if it had sought legal advice on any potential criminal breaches. Treasury said last week that it had not referred the matter to the AFP, but added that “legal advice has been sought in relation to this matter”.

Treasury’s statement on Wednesday evening confirms that it had not seen the TPB document when it decided not to refer the matter to the AFP.

This masthead is not suggesting that Collins has engaged in criminal conduct, only that Treasury is considering whether to take any further steps against him and/or PwC relating to the leaking of confidential information.

Collins has not been reachable for comment since the ban became public in January.

The Tax Practitioners Board said it received intelligence on the PwC matter in April 2020, and in December 2022 informed Treasury of the outcome of its investigation.

The 148-page document was submitted by the board to Senate estimates in response to queries from Senator Deborah O’Neill. She had also queried the TPB on why the matter was referred to it, rather than the AFP.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he is prepared to take further action if it is recommended by Treasury and the regulators.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said he is prepared to take further action if it is recommended by Treasury and the regulators.CREDIT: RHETT WYMAN

“Peter John Collins was found to have breached multiple confidentiality agreements with Treasury, which had provisions where a breach of it was reportable under the Crimes Act,” she said.

“This question has been referred to the Australian Tax Office,” the TPB replied.

An ATO spokesperson has told this publication that it cannot comment on the “affairs of individual tax practitioners, firms or independent investigations undertaken by the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) due to secrecy obligations”.

The fallout continued overnight with The Australian Financial Review reporting that two more senior partners at PwC Australia, Pete Calleja and Sean Gregory, have stood down from leadership positions, but remain employees of the firm.

PwC Australia’s boss Tom Seymour stepping down as chief executive officer on Monday evening, but he remains a senior partner at the firm.

He had confirmed days earlier that he was one of the partners who had received the emails from TPB’s investigation but denied they were aware that it breached a confidentiality agreement with Treasury.

PwC’s sponsorship of a $5000-a-head post-budget dinner was also withdrawn.

Chartered Accountants ANZ has said any PwC staff involved in the tax scandal could face disciplinary action. This includes having their right to practice invoked.

A press release last week said its professional conduct committee “can investigate all individual members who are partners of any firm that has had an adverse finding made against it, or that has had a condition placed on its registration.”

Last week, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the federal government was prepared to take further action against PwC if necessary over a leak of confidential government tax plans.

“I’ve indicated to the Treasury and to the regulators if there are more steps that are necessary, I’m prepared to take them,” Chalmers said.

The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.