A long-running legal battle between Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan and once-high-profile Sydney accountant Vanda Gould continues, with the Federal Court granting Mr Jordan access to confidential information about Mr Gould and his associates.
- Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan has been granted access by the Federal Court to protected taxpayer information
- The information relates to former Sydney accountant Vanda Gould, who has mounted defamation proceedings against Mr Jordan
- The documents Mr Jordan is seeking for his defamation defence include audit material about Mr Gould and his associates
Mr Gould and other business associates have previously been the focus of the now-defunct Wickenby Taskforce, which was famously behind the pursuit of wealthy individuals including Australian actor Paul Hogan.
Mr Gould commenced defamation proceedings against Mr Jordan in 2017, over comments the Tax Commissioner made at the National Press Club.
He claimed that in comments Mr Jordan made at the National Press Club in Canberra on July 5 that year, referring to the “Hua Wang Bank” litigation, Mr Jordan alleged Mr Gould had engaged in money laundering, insider trading and tax evasion of the “worst kind”.
Mr Jordan then took his own department to court to get access to protected information about Mr Gould, which he argued would help him be able to mount a defence.
Taxpayer information is protected under the Tax Act, but the Federal Court last week ruled Mr Jordan was able to access the information.
Documents up for grabs include audit findings
The court heard the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has control over a number of documents containing protected information relating to the affairs of Mr Gould, his clients and his associated entities.
These documents include affidavits and exhibits from a range of legal proceedings, material obtained by ATO officers during review and audit investigation, and correspondence received in managing disputes between Mr Gould and the ATO.
The court heard, “It is likely that a substantial proportion of the documents held by the ATO will contain information that will or may be of assistance to Mr Jordan’s advisers in defending the defamation proceedings”.
In his judgement, Justice Richard White agreed they would be.
“It can be concluded that the defamation proceedings do relate to at least some taxation laws,” Justice White said.
An ATO spokesman said, “Commissioner Jordan has no comment on this matter as it is before the court”.
Mr Jordan had argued in his affidavit, obtained by ABC News, that if he doesn’t get access to the documents to fight the defamation case, other individuals in dispute with the Australian Taxation Office could launch lawsuits against him.
Mr Jordan also warned that if he was denied the documents, he may be forced to refrain from publicly speaking about ATO court wins, and that this could have a, “detrimental impact on the administration of Australia’s taxation laws”.
Justice White said that when ATO commissioners make promotional and educational statements, they should do so without disclosing the protected information of an individual taxpayer.
He also said arguments concerning, “possible collateral litigation are so nebulous as not to be capable of prevailing against the strict obligations of confidentiality imposed” under the act.
The High Court battle Mr Gould lost
This is not the first battle against Mr Gould and the Tax Commissioner.
In November 2016, Mr Gould lost a battle against the ATO in the High Court, when a series of offshore incorporated companies he was associated with were hit with a $16 million tax bill.
The High Court had referred to an earlier Federal Court ruling, handed down in December 2014, by Justice Nye Perram, who had sent copies of the case decision to authorities including the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Australian Federal Police.
In that judgment, Justice Perram said: “The facts I have found strongly suggest widespread money laundering, tax fraud of the most serious kind and, possibly in some instances, insider trading. The conduct revealed in this case is disgraceful.”
Mr Jordan had said in his affidavit he believed it was “in the public interest” to make his views about the case known in a public forum that was broadcast on the ABC, and covered by about 24 working journalists.
He said, “Having regard to that paragraph of the judgement in particular” that the Hua Wang Bank matter struck him as a, “significant example of litigation that was necessary for the ATO to pursue”.
The discussion would, “send a strong message to the taxpaying community that there will be adverse consequences for those taxpayers who engage in unlawful activities”.
Mr Gould has previously complained about his treatment at the hands of the ATO.
He told a 2014 parliamentary inquiry into tax disputes that the agency can issue someone with tax bills and that it can take, “sometimes years before a taxpayer has an opportunity of having his grievance heard by a court or tribunal”.