Thursday, 1 May 2008

Names roll in $100m tax scheme case

TWO women have been named as accessories to an alleged $100 million offshore tax avoidance scheme set up by a former accountant, Robert Francis Agius.

Fiona McConnochie, a commercial solicitor who lives in New Zealand, and Kelly Jane Fawcett-Mourgues, who is thought to live in North Queensland, were named in charges laid against Agius, 50, when the Vanuatu resident was brought to Sydney's Central Local Court yesterday.

They are the first of 400 Sydney business people to be named for their alleged involvement in a money laundering scheme through New Zealand and Vanuatu that is the subject of Operation Wickenby, a joint Federal Police and Taxation Office taskforce.

A 59-year-old Wahroonga man will face Melbourne Magistrates Court today accused of defrauding the Commonwealth. Investigators say he established an offshore corporate structure of trusts and companies allegedly to help another person avoid paying tax on $400,000.

In Sydney yesterday, when three charges were formally put against Agius before Magistrate John Bailey, David Staehli, SC, for the Department of Public Prosecutions, did not state if the women had also been charged.

Agius refused to leave his cell under the court complex for the brief hearing. He had been brought to the court from Perth on extradition, following his arrest by federal police on Sunday when he flew into Australia to visit an associate.

Agius was charged with conspiring with McConnochie and others to defraud the Commonwealth between January 1, 1997, and May 23, 2001.

He was further charged with conspiring with Fawcett-Mourgues to defraud, causing loss to the Australian Taxation Office, between May 24 2001 and April 23 this year.

The third charge alleged that between January 1, 2003, and April 23 this year he and Fawcett-Mourgues and others in Sydney and elsewhere conspired to deal with money to the value of more than $1 million "and intended for that money to become an instrument of crime".

Agius's lawyer, Greg Murray, did not apply for bail but asked that the matter be relisted for hearing tomorrow. "Mr Agius is in custody and is not asking to be bought up [to appear]," he said. "We are asking that the matter go over for two days to receive instructions. There are complex issues and I need to take further instructions."

Federal Police said yesterday that, since Monday, 16 people had been served with notices to appear before the Federal Magistrates Court next month.

They are among 20 who are alleged to have participated in a "round robin" money laundering scheme.

Five of those served with notices on Monday are listed to face the court on June 3, but police have yet to name them.

The 20 are alleged by Federal Police to have defrauded the Commonwealth of more than $13 million while Agius is alleged to have received $1.4 million in commissions from them alone.

Ms McConnochie did not return calls yesterday. The website of her law firm, Fletcher Vautier Moore, lists that she worked as client services manager for the Vanuatu International Finance Trust Company Limited, owned by Agius's PFK Vanuatu.

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