The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has talked of bracing itself for what may be a “second Panama Papers-style leak”, after learning that the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is scrutinising data about wealthy clients of Bermuda law firm Appleby.
As reported, the financial secrets of Appleby’s super-rich clients might be about to be leaked, following a data breach in a cyber attack last year.
Appleby has formally warned its clients that they may be subject to exposure, and that the data had been passed to media outlets that are members of ICIJ, the same organisation behind 2015’s so-called “Panama Papers”, in which 11.5 million documents relating to clients of another offshore law firm, Panama-based Mossack Fonseca, were leaked.
While strenuously denying any wrongdoing or illegal activity, Appleby said that it was not “infallible”.
ATO deputy commissioner Mark Konza told Senate Estimates, a committee of the Australian parliament tasked with forecasting government income and expenditure for budgetary analysis, that he was “aware of media reports” that suggested another big leak that would affect Australian taxpayers was in process, and that the firm in question was Appleby.
“We have been aware of an issue regarding this firm,” he said. “We understand that it’s in regard to services provided by that law firm to taxpayers.
“From the bare details that we have, that it might be similar to the Panama Papers where tax structuring has been exposed.”
Criminal charges ‘might be brought’
The ATO is a constituent member of the Serious Financial Crimes Taskforce, an inter-agency body in Australia that seeks to recover monies owed to the federal government.
It told Senate Estimates that it had raised about A$50m (US$38.36m, £28.86m) in liabilities from the earlier investigation relating to the “Panama Papers”, and said that a further A$40m of income would now be included.
It said that “about 600” people involved in these sums had come forward through the ATO’s 2014 tax amnesty known as Project Do It.
The ATO has said that criminal charges are likely to be brought against some individuals relating to the Panama Papers revelations.
Appleby was established in Bermuda in the 1890s and specialises in offshore legal advice, with other locations including the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Mauritius, and the Seychelles, “as well as a presence in the international financial centres of Hong Kong and Shanghai”, according to its website.