16 Feb Airo AV Writes Inside the brazen tax scam where the homeless are made comp…
ALICE BRENNAN: Welcome to Background Briefing. We’re the pod that puts Australia’s best investigations in your feed every week.
My name is Alice Brennan.
Before we get started, one quick thing. If you support investigative journalism – if you like what we do here on Background Briefing – do us a tiny favour and give us a rating or a review where you get your podcasts. It helps other people find us.
Also: a language warning for the show this week.
A couple of months ago, investigative reporter Dan Oakes found himself sitting on a couch opposite this guy called Rod Jackson.
Now, Rod’s a company director.
DAN OAKES: Rod, I’ve done a search and I’ve counted 26 companies that you were a director of.
ROD JACKSON: How many?
DAN OAKES: Twenty-six.
ROD JACKSON: Twenty – you’re kidding.
DAN OAKES: No, they are all listed here.
ALICE BRENNAN: These are companies you’ve probably never heard of – but, strangely, neither had Rod.
DAN OAKES: Have you ever heard of Dubbo Bulk Haulage?
DAN OAKES: Moreland Transport?
ROD JACKSON: Never heard of it.
DAN OAKES: Art haulage?
ROD JACKSON: Never heard of it.
DAN OAKES: Avondale Woods Proprietary Limited?
ROD JACKSON: Never heard of them.
DAN OAKES: Well, there’s 26 companies here that you’ve been put in as a director of. And so you say there was only one that you agreed to sign up to?
ROD JACKSON: Yeah, there’s only one I agreed to. I didn’t agree to any more. So… They’ve really stuck me in the shit, haven’t they?
ALICE BRENNAN: Turns out Rod is caught up in a massive tax avoidance scheme; and the “they” he’s talking about are the scheme’s architects.
Dan Oakes, you’ve been following this story for something like two years, right?
DAN OAKES: Hi, Alice.
Yeah, I’ve been following this for two years. It’s been a bit of a long haul.
But what I’ve discovered, essentially, is a scheme for tax evasion that was fairly brazen, but also quite simple in its execution.
ALICE BRENNAN: OK. “Simple” is a massive call, Dan, when you’re talking about anything relating to tax.
DAN OAKES: OK, maybe you have a point. Maybe not so simple.
I mean, the scheme that I think I have come across involves almost 200 companies. Tens of millions of dollars those companies owed collectively when they went into liquidation. And businesses, workers and the taxpayer – you and I – are the ones who have ended up out of pocket.
ALICE BRENNAN: And the architects have been doing this for, what, over a decade?
DAN OAKES: I have found companies going back to 2005: so 15 years where dummy directors were appointed as directors of companies.
ALICE BRENNAN: That is definitely brazen. And where does Rod fit into all of this?
DAN OAKES: So one day Rod agreed to be the director of a company, as a favour to the accountants who were doing his taxes.
But then he was signed up to be the director of another 25 companies – he says, without his knowledge.
And those companies were then used to, I suppose, shield the people that really controlled them from the Tax Office and other creditors.
So Rod’s the one there: he’s the face of the company. But in actual fact they are being controlled by others.
ALICE BRENNAN: So, basically, they signed Rod up to become the director of a fake company?
DAN OAKES: Most of these companies, yes, existed only on paper. They didn’t have any real business or an address or anything like that. They existed purely for this purpose.
You know, Rod said he had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself into at the time. He had no idea what the obligations and duties of a director were, or what the consequences could be for him.
ALICE BRENNAN: So who are the people behind this? Who are the architects of the whole thing?
I mean, how do you even make money by installing people as company directors who, actually, clearly don’t know how to run a company?
DAN OAKES: Well, that’s what we wanted to know right from the start.
And to work that out my producer, Jeremy Story Carter and I had to go and track down some more dummy directors.
(Audio recording of car interior)
JEREMY STORY CARTER: Yeah, just right at the supermarket.
Yeah, I think give this one a go.
DAN OAKES: Right?
JEREMY STORY CARTER: Right here, yeah.
DAN OAKES: We’ve come to the picturesque town of Woodend, 45 minutes west of Melbourne.
We want to know how this whole operation works and we’re hoping to find another company director.
(Sound of Dan and Jeremy alighting from car)
DAN OAKES: His name is Jamie Cox.
In many ways, Jamie’s story mirrors Rod’s. Jamie initially agreed to be interviewed, but then dropped off the grid. I’ve tried calling him, to no avail.
(Sound of hand knocking on front door of dwelling)
DAN OAKES: So we’ve taken a punt and turned up on his doorstep.
(To Jamie) Hello. How are you?
JAMIE COX: Oh yeah, not bad. Why didn’t you ring me?
DAN OAKES: I did. I tried to ring you a few times.
(Voiceover) He shows us into his small unit and gestures for us to sit on the couch, next to his geriatric blue heeler.
(To Jeremy): We rolling?
JEREMY STORY CARTER: Yes, we are rolling. Can I possibly just get you say your name and where you’re from, if that’s all right?
JAMIE COX: Yeah, you know me name. Jamie Cox. Yeah.
DAN OAKES: You’re a pretty hard man to find, though, Jamie.
JAMIE COX: Yeah, that’s – reason’s obvious, yeah. Why would I want to be found?
(To Jeremy) Do you have to put that thing in my face?
DAN OAKES: Jamie Cox is a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s got a shaved head, a rat’s tail and a short temper.
Most of all, he hates being taken advantage of.
(To Jamie) It took a long time for me to actually find you in the first place, though. I spoke to you a few times before you agreed–
JAMIE COX: Yeah, two and a half years.
DAN OAKES: How long?
JAMIE COX: Two and a half years.
DAN OAKES: Yeah. Why did it take so long for you to agree to meet me?
JAMIE COX (pause): Sceptical. Don’t like getting screwed where it hurts.
DAN OAKES: Jamie’s scepticism is well-founded.
More than a decade ago he was in a bad way: addicted to drugs and alcohol.
He says one day he was sitting in a truck stop café, next to Melbourne’s arterial Western Ring Road. The truckie he was sitting with had an odd proposition:
JAMIE COX: He said, you just got to go in there, help run the joint. You get a full-time job out of it, blah, blah, blah.
DAN OAKES: Jamie would become the director of a trucking company. In return, he’d be given a few hundred dollars, cash. All he had to do was sign a few forms.
JAMIE COX: Next thing I know I got all the paperwork, passed it on. And then it’s gone.
DAN OAKES: What’s gone?
JAMIE COX: The company’s gone. It was liquidated.
DAN OAKES: Did you ever have any experience before this of being a director of a company; or how, you know, our corporate system works?
JAMIE COX: Nope. No, the only companies I’ve run is my own bloody private things, like lawn mowing and shit like that. I wouldn’t even call them companies: I’d just call them…