Tax & ATO News Australia

Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Ma [2017] FCA 1317

In the recent decision of Deputy Commissioner of Taxation v Ma, the Federal Court has examined an application by the Deputy Commissioner seeking interlocutory relief by way of freezing order against three respondents.

The relief sought by the Deputy Commissioner, is followed by separate proceedings by the Deputy Commissioner to recover accrued tax liabilities owed by the respondents to the New Zealand Commissioner for Inland Revenue as provided by Article 27 of the Australia New Zealand Double Taxation Agreement.

Pursuant to s 263-30 of the Taxation Administration Act 1953, upon registration of a foreign revenue claim, the amounts owed to a foreign revenue authority become pecuniary liability to the Commonwealth of Australia. In the present case, the tax debt were correctly registered and the required notice was given to the respondents.

Mortimer J in granting the interim relief sought by the Deputy Commissioner discussed the necessary elements for the Court to exercise its discretion. Each element and the relevant findings were as follows:

1. The Applicant must have a reasonably arguable case, both on the law and facts.

Mortimer J was satisfied that the evidence clearly showed that the Deputy Commissioner had a reasonably arguable case as the debt owed to the New Zealand Commissioner of Inland Revenue was duly registered. Thus, the Deputy Commissioner was entitled to the debt. 

2. A danger that a prospective judgement will be wholly or partially unsatisfied because the assets of the prospective judgement debtor will be removed from Australia or disposed, dealt with or diminished in value.

Each debt registered against the three respondents were of significant value. Although there was no evidence of a positive intention on the part of any of the respondents to frustrate the judgement of the Court, Mortimer J was satisfied that from the evidence an inference can be drawn that there is a real risk or danger that the respondent might attempt.

In drawing such an inference, Mortimer J examined several categories of evidence that demonstrated a real risk of deliberate dissipation existed, which are discussed below:

  • (a) On the evidence, the first respondent conducted serious transactions as an authorised person to an account owned by a Chinese national. On these facts, Mortimer J found “the first respondent appears to be concealing his financial activities behind the façade of another person through the use of this bank account.”
  • (b) After the first and second respondent were notified of their tax debt they proceeded to put their Australian properties, either owned personally or through a corporation (under their control) on the market for sale.
  • (c) Following the Deputy Commissioner notifying the first and second respondent of the foreign revenue claim and subsequent garnishee notices, they transferred substantial funds from Australia to China.
  • (d) Other dishonest behaviour exhibited by the first and third respondents as directors of companies that have claimed and been paid large amounts of Goods and Services Tax credits, which they were not entitled to.

Accordingly, on the basis of the evidence discussed Mortimer J recognised that their behaviour gave rise to an inference that there is a real and not fanciful risk that each of the respondents may seek to dissipate or dispose assets should the orders not be made.

3. The balance of convenience favours granting of the freezing order

Mortimer J was satisfied the balance of convenience favours making the freezing order, accounting for the undertakings proffered by the Deputy Commissioner.

In granting the freezing order sought by the Deputy Commissioner, Mortimer J found that providing an exception for the respondents to deal with or dispose of assets in the ordinary court of business was not appropriate in the present context. In light of the risks demonstrated on the evidence, the respondents may use the exception improperly and inappropriately. 

Posted in: Tax & ATO News Australia at 22 November 17

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Author: David Hughes

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