Former ATO official denies using “improper influence” to help son Former ATO official denies using “improper influence” to help son

Former ATO official denies using “improper influence” to help son
07 Feb 2019

The son of a former Australian Tax Office (ATO) deputy commissioner accused of misusing his position asked whether one of his father’s subordinates was “discreet” in a series of tapped phone calls played to the court.

A sometimes audibly nervous Michael Bede Cranston was heard speaking to his son Adam, who has been linked to the Plutus Payroll scandal, over the course of 21 intercepted conversations aired during his trial before Judge Robyn Tupman in the New South Wales District Court.

Michael Cranston is charged with obtaining information in his capacity as a senior public servant to benefit his son, as well as using his influence to improperly obtain a benefit for his son, both with the intention of acting dishonestly. Mr Cranston denies all of the allegations and was not believed to be involved with Plutus Payroll in any capacity.

The court previously heard that Adam Cranston asked his father in early 2017 to look into the nature of any audits the ATO was conducting against Simon Anquetil, a man financially linked to the now defunct Plutus Payroll, with which Adam also had a business relationship via a shareholding company.

Crown prosecutor Peter Neil SC earlier told the jury that Mr Cranston had asked assistant commissioner Scott Burrows to look into Mr Anquetil following Adam’s request.

In a conversation played to the jury, Michael Cranston told his son, “I’ve got Scott onto it”. Adam asked: “He’s pretty discreet though, isn’t he?” to which Mr Cranston replied: “Yeah, yeah”. “Is he trustworthy and stuff?” Adam asked again, while Mr Cranston replied: “He reports directly to me”.

In a later phone call, Mr Cranston is heard revealing that the information on Mr Anquetil was held in a “protected area”. “It has to be in the organised crime area because there’s that secret number on it,” he said.

During the same conversation, Mr Cranston said to Adam that he had told Burrows: “Look, my son’s worried that he bought this company … he’s worried he’s getting into bed with somebody.”

The court also heard that Adam had asked for his father’s help in arranging a meeting with the ATO to have the orders lifted. It is alleged that Mr Cranston contacted another assistant commissioner, Tony Poulakis, regarding Adam’s request but misled him as to its nature.

Mr Cranston told Mr Poulakis, when asking him to find an auditor who had investigated Plutus Payroll, that he was worried about the situation “blowing up in the press”.

Mr Cranston’s barrister David Staehli SC previously told the jury that his client denied being dishonest in his dealings with his staff and that he had made both sets of inquiries during the broad scope of his duties as a senior ATO official.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he added Mr Cranston had told Mr Poulakis that the Plutus Payroll matter was urgent because “people are going to the bloody press” over their accounts being frozen.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

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The son of a former Australian Tax Office (ATO) deputy commissioner accused of misusing his position asked whether one of his father’s subordinates was “discreet” in a series of tapped phone calls played to the court.

A sometimes audibly nervous Michael Bede Cranston was heard speaking to his son Adam, who has been linked to the Plutus Payroll scandal, over the course of 21 intercepted conversations aired during his trial before Judge Robyn Tupman in the New South Wales District Court.

Michael Cranston is charged with obtaining information in his capacity as a senior public servant to benefit his son, as well as using his influence to improperly obtain a benefit for his son, both with the intention of acting dishonestly. Mr Cranston denies all of the allegations and was not believed to be involved with Plutus Payroll in any capacity.

The court previously heard that Adam Cranston asked his father in early 2017 to look into the nature of any audits the ATO was conducting against Simon Anquetil, a man financially linked to the now defunct Plutus Payroll, with which Adam also had a business relationship via a shareholding company.

Crown prosecutor Peter Neil SC earlier told the jury that Mr Cranston had asked assistant commissioner Scott Burrows to look into Mr Anquetil following Adam’s request.

In a conversation played to the jury, Michael Cranston told his son, “I’ve got Scott onto it”. Adam asked: “He’s pretty discreet though, isn’t he?” to which Mr Cranston replied: “Yeah, yeah”. “Is he trustworthy and stuff?” Adam asked again, while Mr Cranston replied: “He reports directly to me”.

In a later phone call, Mr Cranston is heard revealing that the information on Mr Anquetil was held in a “protected area”. “It has to be in the organised crime area because there’s that secret number on it,” he said.

During the same conversation, Mr Cranston said to Adam that he had told Burrows: “Look, my son’s worried that he bought this company … he’s worried he’s getting into bed with somebody.”

The court also heard that Adam had asked for his father’s help in arranging a meeting with the ATO to have the orders lifted. It is alleged that Mr Cranston contacted another assistant commissioner, Tony Poulakis, regarding Adam’s request but misled him as to its nature.

Mr Cranston told Mr Poulakis, when asking him to find an auditor who had investigated Plutus Payroll, that he was worried about the situation “blowing up in the press”.

Mr Cranston’s barrister David Staehli SC previously told the jury that his client denied being dishonest in his dealings with his staff and that he had made both sets of inquiries during the broad scope of his duties as a senior ATO official.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he added Mr Cranston had told Mr Poulakis that the Plutus Payroll matter was urgent because “people are going to the bloody press” over their accounts being frozen.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance business journalist. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Guardian, the Times, Forbes and the BBC.

OTHER STORIES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

Using digital forensics to tackle payroll fraud

Canadian former payroll administrator charged with $1.4m fraud

France recovers billions in tax fraud and evasion crackdown

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