25 May 2023

Treasury refers PwC matter to the AFP for criminal investigation

| Chris Johnson
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Jim Chalmers

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has referred the PwC breach of trust to the federal police. Photo: File.

The Federal Government has referred the PricewaterhouseCoopers breach of trust scandal to the federal police.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has given the green light for the Treasury to take the action, only naming the former PwC executive who leaked confidential information to other executives and clients of the giant accountancy firm.

Secretary to the Treasury, Steven Kennedy, made the announcement via statement on Wednesday evening (24 May).

“PwC Australia’s former head of international tax, Mr Peter Collins, improperly used confidential Commonwealth information,” he said.

“The emails that the Tax Practitioners Board tabled in Parliament on 2 May 2023 highlighted the significant extent of the unauthorised disclosure of confidential Commonwealth information and the wide range of individuals within PwC who were directly and indirectly privy to the confidential information.

“In light of these recent revelations and the seriousness of this misconduct, the Treasury has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police to consider commencement of a criminal investigation.”

While a PwC partner advising the government on tax matters in 2016, Peter-John Collins allegedly revealed confidential Treasury information to executives throughout the accountancy firm and to its international clients, devising a scheme to help them avoid paying the taxes he was helping to establish.

Mr Collins has since left the company and was last year deregistered by the TPB, with the fallout also seeing other senior PWC officials, including its chief executive officer Tom Seymour, fall on their swords.

It is unclear at this stage how wide-sweeping the AFP investigation will be and whether it will look beyond Mr Collin’s role in the matter.

Meanwhile, PwC continues to receive lucrative government contracts, despite it appearing to snub a parliamentary demand for more transparency over the tax scandal that has rocked the corporate and public sector worlds.

PwC has won contracts worth $573m from the Federal Government in the past two years alone, with no hint yet that it will be banned from any further government consultancy work.

Labor senator Deborah O’Neill had demanded PwC’s interim CEO Kristin Stubbins reveal the names of more than 50 people the confidential information was shared with.

Ms Stubbins has so far failed to deliver the redacted names of the PwC partners implicated on 144 pages of email correspondence.

READ ALSO Is Chalmers too close to PwC to really punish them?

Senator O’Neill gave a 48-hour deadline – that has passed – for PwC to cough up.

“That information has not been forthcoming,” Senator O’Neill said.

“The obfuscation at PwC continues.

“Naming the names of the 50-plus staff and partners in the 144 pages of emails is the only way PwC can start to redeem its name and reassure the Australian people that it is turning a leaf on the past (and) committing to a new era of truth-telling, rather than continuing in corporate damage control.”

Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo told Senate Estimates this week that while he was more circumspect in relation to PwC, he wasn’t confident there was any lawful basis to ban the firm from winning future government contracts.

But he did think the incident was a perfect case for the new National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate.

“As far as I’m concerned, the advent of the NACC could not have come too soon,” Mr Pezzullo said.

“We have to throw the anti-corruption/integrity net much more widely to get into the full supply chain of people who deal with the Commonwealth.

“This is a salutary example, albeit from some years ago, as to why you need that broader anti-corruption framework.”

Last week, the Department of Finance updated its procurement policy to include the notification of any “significant event” involving unethical behaviour of bidding suppliers.

Region revealed on Tuesday that on 21 November last year Treasurer Jim Chalmers was the guest of honour at a PwC sponsored fundraiser for the ALP where guests were enthusiastically told how close the Treasurer is to the firm.

READ ALSO Switkowski to lead review into PwC culture and ethics

Billed as a “Boardroom Dinner with the Hon Jim Chalmers MP”, the event took place in the Canberra offices of PwC on Sydney Avenue, Forrest – after the completion of the TBP investigation into Collins.

Dr Chalmers was seated at the head of the table with barely 15 others in the room.

To his immediate left sat Sean Gregory, who until very recently was PwC’s chief strategy and reputation officer but has lost his role over the tax scandal.

Mr Gregory went to great lengths at the meeting to tell those in attendance how close he was to the Treasurer and how he had spent many hours discussing policy and socialising with Dr Chalmers – which the Treasurer acknowledged.

Dr Chalmers insists he was unaware of the TPB investigation at the time and that the PwC fundraising event was organised by the “party organisation”.

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