Kate McClymont and Geesche Jacobsen
Sydney Morning Herald
March 1, 2008
A BUSINESSMAN who told the Tax Office his total taxable income since 1995 was less than $4000 has been charged with laundering $30 million.
Michael John Milne, 52, appeared at Central Local Court yesterday charged with tax evasion and money laundering.
Michael John Milne, left, who is charged with tax evasion, and his legal counsel yesterday. Photo: Photo: Brendan Esposito
Milne, a polo-playing, media entrepreneur from Neutral Bay, is best known for his involvement with Demtel, a business famous for its steak knife advertisements, accompanied by the unforgettable "Wait … there's more."
His former business associates have included the jailed music entrepreneur Glenn Wheatley, and the former Liberal leader Dr John Hewson.
On Thursday, Australian Federal Police searched the office of the law firm Atanaskovic Hartnell, a firm part-owned by the former chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Tony Hartnell, for documents relating to Mr Milne's companies. It is understood that no other clients of the firm are involved in the investigation.
Police alleged in a document tendered in court that a former Atanaskovic Hartnell solicitor, Anne Harley, had set up various companies for Milne, and had instructed a Swiss bank to destroy account opening documents and replace them with new documents showing Milne had legitimate access to the account from which $30 million worth of shares were sold in February 2005.
No charges have been laid against Ms Harley, who told the Herald yesterday that she would never order the alteration of documents. Ms Harley said the first she knew of the allegations involving her was when the media called yesterday.
Ms Harley, 46, said her last involvement with Milne was when he encouraged her to become chairwoman of Australian Power and Gas, which had as one of its largest shareholders a company connected with Milne. Ms Harley said she resigned in October as Milne "wanted more influence that I thought was appropriate".
The Tax Office alerted federal police to Milne last August, eight months after he lodged tax returns for the 13 years from 1995 to 2006, which declared a total taxable income for those years of $3397.
The court heard that documents obtained by the police, including from raids on Milne's house and office, and Australia's leading banks, allege Milne received millions of dollars in income and consultancy fees from a string of companies.
In November, Kim Goodall, a director of the software services company Admerex, of which Milne was a director was interviewed. Police allege Milne "manipulated Admerex and its directors through fraud and intimidation" to get documents to justify his holding $30 million in offshore accounts.
The court heard Milne allegedly laundered $30 million from the sale of shares in an unrelated Swiss company, Temenos, through a complex array of companies ultimately controlled by him, and with the help of Urs Meisterhans, 47, a partner in the Swiss financial services group Sinitus.
Sinitus was involved in a famous fraud case in London in 2004 in which Mr Meisterhans's clients were found guilty of defrauding the brother of the Emir of Qatar. Mr Miesterhan's evidence was described as "evasive and untruthful".
Famous for attending meetings in knee-high polo boots with a limousine idling outside, Milne has had a string of famous business partnerships, not all of which ended happily.
They include Dr Hewson, who joined Milne to work on a cable shopping channel in 1995, only to leave a year later. Wheatley, a former business partner of Milne's in International Media Management, is in jail in Victoria after pleading guilty to tax fraud.
David Coe, of the troubled Allco group, was also involved with Milne in a failed ATM joint venture with the Bank of Queensland that ended up in court. The Queensland Supreme Court heard that Milne's "reputation" did not give the bank's board "confidence", although it was "comforted" by Mr Coe's experience and involvement in the venture.
Milne was granted bail on a $5 million surety by his wife Liesa Marie Milne, has surrendered his passport and is due to reappear in court on March 18.
The charging of Milne is part of Operation Wickenby, the investigation by the Australian Crime Commission and the Tax Office. Operation Wickenby has focused on clients of the tax haven promoter Philip Egglishaw, whose Swiss company Strachans has allegedly been used by several high-profile Australian sporting and entertainment figures to avoid paying tax.
Wheatley, who was jailed for using a tax avoidance scheme promoted by Strachans, was given a discount on his sentence for promising to give evidence in any future prosecutions against Mr Egglishaw and others.