AS DEACONS this week put off plans to sue the Australian Tax Office (ATO) in the Federal Court following recent raids of its Sydney and Melbourne offices, the NSW Law Society spoke out against “bandying about names” of partners by the media regarding this matter.
Dibbs Barker Gosling became involved in the tax investigations when senior partner Paul Gregory was named on a search warrant. The law firm’s offices were raided as part of a blitz, including 85 raids, that took place nationally on June 9 and 10.
It is important to note, a spokesperson for Dibbs told Lawyers Weekly, that the people’s names on the search warrants are not necessarily suspected of involvement in unlawful conduct. The firm believes it is inappropriate to be naming or commenting upon any of the individuals who have been included in the broad inquiry by the Tax Office.
NSW Law Society president John McIntyre this week said the media should not be “bandying about names because they have seen a copy of the search warrant.
“It is highly unlikely that the person on the search warrant knows any more about the matter than any one of the partners in the firm,” he said.
Dibbs’ Gregory said: “I strenuously deny any advice I have given in relation to any of these matters would be of any interest to the Tax Office. This is sensitive stuff — my personal reputation is on the line here and I’ve been a solicitor for 34 years and I’m personally distressed.”
McIntyre said this week that because a law firm is a partnership, parties have to either address a direct search warrant to all the partners, “which may include 120 names”, “or, for administrative convenience, you either address it to the managing partner or the CEO if appropriate.
“If a particular name is on the top of the search warrant, then that is an unfortunate by-product of the process,” McIntyre said.
Abbott Tout Lawyers was also served a warrant in relation to the transactions. It said, however, that these transactions were not carried out by Abbott Tout, placing the blame on a particular partner instead.
“A senior taxation partner is involved in the investigation, based on his involvement with clients and matters at a previous firm,” the firm said.
The partner involved, Ross Seller, said: “Along with a number of other professional advisers I received a search warrant … I have fully cooperated and provided all the information required. I have not advised nor have I been involved in any way with the schemes which have been reported in the media.”
As Lawyers Weekly went to press this week, Deacons cancelled plans to take the ATO to court after officers from the Tax Office allegedly arrived unannounced at the firm to seize documents. According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, the Tax Office seized between 20 and 25 files said to have some connection with accountant and alleged tax haven promoter Philip Egglishaw.
A spokesperson for the firm told Lawyers Weekly on Monday that “we didn’t end up going to court today. We had a meeting with the ATO this morning … We expect to have access arrangements signed by the end of today”.
If the access arrangements are signed, said the spokesperson, “everything can then move forward”. “We’re cooperating as best we can.”