Dr Evan Jones continues his examination of white-collar crime from the corporate banking sector. Part 1 can be read here.
Amid the squabbling over audit standards and the fineries of interpretation, it is always open to government to simply insist all companies over a certain size report fully and uniformly. This might do the Big Four out of some business but it would bring the tax dollars in. After all, if business people wish to enjoy the protection of the corporate veil, with that should come accountability and transparency. Otherwise, just don’t incorporate.
Do we need proof of the unfair bias in our laws when an indigenous Australian can be jailed for the theft of a Mars Bar and his employer can’t be charged fo underpaying him? (ODT)
“The Fair Work Act contains very hefty civil penalties for wage underpayments. The penalties were increased by up to 20 times last year,” he said. “Therefore, any view that the previous penalties were not tough enough has already been very comprehensively addressed.
“Any civil case relating to back-pay would be put on hold by the Courts until the criminal case is heard and determined. Therefore, workers would be waiting years for back-pay.”
Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the existing legal regime has failed to prevent underpayment of workers in low paid industries such as hospitality.
“The new laws will be drafted carefully to address any potential constitutional inconsistency issues,” he said.
For the financial planning industry, 2018 will go down as the year where there was nowhere to hide.
“Just a few bad apples”, the industry had constantly told us as scandal after scandal was revealed, and people’s financial futures were ruined.
The banking royal commission showed that up for what it was — a bald-faced lie.
Private job-seeking operators are stripping people of unemployment benefits without consulting government departments, leaving them with few avenues of redress despite up to 1 million mistakes being made last year.
Newscorp loaned Foxtel $900M with an interest rate of 12%.
A report by Michael West describes Foxtel was spitting cash (highly profitable) at the time of the loan and there was no requirement for the loan.
The interest repayments from Foxtel to News resulted in Foxtel reducing their tax to the ATO to zero, Foxtel generated $6 Billion in revenue over 3 years and paid no tax.
If Foxtel had no requirement for the loan it can be argued that Newscorp, Foxtel and their tax lawyers and accountants conspired to draw up a loan agreement for the sole purpose to defraud the ATO of taxable income.
Crime and Punishment, Indigenous Australians get jailed for taking a Mars Bar or failing to pay an unaffordable fine.White Collar Crime is effectively theatre, a court room play leaving justice starved and the performers well paid. Even if the Reserve Bank were fined the fine would be simply written off or covered by insurance. (ODT)
Unique International College used unlawful scheme pushing disadvantaged individuals to enrol in courses such as salon management and marketing
President-elect Donald Trump has made a fortune off of golf courses bearing his name. At least one has been outed for its treatment of migrant workers.
Tomoe* flew home to Japan in November after a two-year working holiday in Australia. She had six employers in that time. All bar one of them had either underpaid or not paid her, or had avoided tax and other obligations by paying cash. By Tomoe’s account, a Japanese restaurant in the inner-Sydney suburb of Newtown paid her $12 an hour as a waitress. In cash. No payslip. A cafe in Paddington paid her $19 an hour as a pastry chef. In cash. No payslip. Only Fratelli Paradiso restaurant, in Potts Point, paid Tomoe formally.
Turns out throwing white-collar criminals in jail doesn’t kill your economy.
Adele Ferguson examines revelations that NAB sacked financial advisers over forgery and poor ethics.
The National Australia Bank has quietly paid millions of dollars in compensation to hundreds of clients given what it considers inappropriate financial planning advice since 2009.
The bank is the latest institution to face disturbing revelations of misconduct in its financial planning division, with a Fairfax Media investigation uncovering instances of forgery, “rogue advisers” and multiple sackings inside its financial advice arm.
A cache of confidential internal documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveals that, according to NAB, 31 of its financial planners were terminated, suspended or had their resignations “ensured” due to conflicts of interest, inappropriate advice, inappropriate practices or repeated compliance breaches.
That figure does not include sackings from the NAB-owned Meritum advice operation, which, according to NAB, has terminated six financial advisers in two years.
One August 2014 “advice review” document, authored by NAB’s head of wealth, Andrew Hagger, says “we have highlighted a number of other major incidents from over the past five years (some completed and some ongoing) including those related to replacement insurance advice, gearing advice, and the adequacy of resources devoted to clients complaints handling.”
The document was circulated as NAB was being criticised and forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to customers in its UK arm for mis-selling of insurance products.
It confirms that “rogue advisers” operated within NAB Wealth, and speaks of “other major incidents” from the past five years in which some advisers forged their clients’ signatures and manipulated documents in attempts to cover up misconduct.
Investigations into three of these cases were “continuing” at the time the document was written.
Disturbingly, the document states that these instances were not detected by the bank’s internal controls, but through client complaints or queries by authorities.
The revelations, which follow the fraud and forgery scandal inside the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning operation, will add to calls for a royal commission into the financial advice sector – a move that the Abbott government has so far refused to consider, despite a royal commission into CBA being recommended by a high-profile bipartisan Senate inquiry last year.
“One of the worst ‘captain’s calls’ of the Abbott government was to dismiss this recommendation out of hand, despite readily calling royal commissions into unions and pink batts when it suited them,” said Jeff Morris, the whistleblower who exposed the planning scandal at CBA.
He said the NAB revelations added to the case for an even more wide-ranging royal commission into financial services and white-collar crime.
Alan Kirkland, the boss of consumer advocacy group Choice, said on Friday that Australia’s financial planning industry was “dangerous” and read like a scandal rap sheet. “CBA, Storm Financial, Great Southern, Westpoint, Fincorp, Trio, Timbercorp – which makes it even more alarming that less than 2 per cent of financial advice licensees will be subject to proactive surveillance by ASIC,” he said. He called on the government to boost the spending of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to better monitor dangerous industries.
The NAB documents were provided to Fairfax Media by a concerned internal bank whistleblower, who was not willing to trust NAB’s whistleblower protection policies.
The whistleblower has told Fairfax Media of a volatile, toxic and Machiavellian culture within NAB Wealth. “I’m providing this information because a lot of us are frustrated with the ‘motherhood’ statements and lack of commitment by management to take these issues seriously,” the whistleblower said.
Mr Hagger told Fairfax Media that the bank had paid between $10 million and $15 million in compensation to 750 customers for inappropriate advice since 2009.
When asked whether every client of advisers NAB had sacked, suspended or forced to “resign” had been offered a review of their files, and compensation if warranted, Mr Hagger said clients were contacted on a case-by-case basis.
“Where we believe it’s appropriate to advise customers we have done so,” he said. “In many cases we’ve written to customers and have offered them an advice review … in some cases that has also led to compensation.”
He said NAB Wealth did not have “systemic issues” but “we do have individual cases” of poor advice within its network of 1700 advisers. He said NAB Wealth had a “proud track record” and had “very high industry standing”.
ASIC declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the NAB documents.
But it said it had a project under way focusing on the advice conduct of the four big banks, AMP and Macquarie Group. “We have significant work under way targeting those entities,” a spokesman said. “This includes work that covers NAB Wealth’s business. We cannot comment further on this work at this point in time.
“ASIC will expand its regulatory work on NAB’s financial planning and wealth management businesses to consider any additional issues that are brought to its attention and we urge Fairfax Media to share with ASIC any material it has, which might be relevant to our work involving NAB Wealth.”
I, like many others, was bemused by our government’s tardy response to the Ebola crisis. I know they were advised that infected health workers might not survive a 30 hour plane trip back to here but they seemed to do little to find a solution.
Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) are multi-disciplinary health teams incorporating doctors, nurses, and allied health staff. They are designed to be self-sufficient, experienced teams that can rapidly respond to a disaster zone to provide life saving treatment to casualties, in support of the local health response.
Instead of deploying these teams, we sat back as the infection rate grew exponentially, and brave volunteers who recognised the necessity of rapid response chose to go and help without government support.
Belatedly, Abbott announces a deal has been made (more than a fortnight after it was offered), but outsources our response effort to Aspen Medical without going through any form of tender process.
Call me cynical, but whenever this government begins outsourcing, I start wondering who will make money out of the deal.
Canberra-based Aspen, with a workforce of 2200, has become a regular recipient of government contracts, particularly from Defence.
In 2009, it signed three contracts worth $130 million to provide assistance to the regional mission in the Solomon Islands. This year it received another $26.5 million for regional assistance.
The company was officially opened in 2004 by the then Howard Government Health Minister Tony Abbott.
Electoral records show it donated $11,000 to the Queensland LNP last year.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has asked Australia and Canada to justify their decisions last week to suspend migration from Ebola-hit countries.
“These are measures that go beyond the recommendations of the WHO’s emergency committee,” said Isabelle Nuttall, who heads WHO’s alert and response department.
Australia on October 27 became the first Western nation to suspend migration from Ebola-hit West African nations, and Canada followed suit four days later.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade awarded the $20 million contract to Aspen, bypassing Australian medical assistance teams or AusMats who are specifically trained to deal with this kind of crisis.
EMMA ALBERICI: So was this an open and competitive tender process?
GLENN KEYS: I can’t really talk to that because I’m not inside government, but I can say that because of our background in previous experience in deployments, as well as our experience in Liberia, I think we’re really well suited for the provision of these services to the Australian Government.
EMMA ALBERICI: Is there any level of Australian Government logistical support for your efforts?
GLENN KEYS: No, they’ve contracted us to provide all of the services.
EMMA ALBERICI: What I’m asking you, I guess is that you’re the people who are recruiting and providing the supports and the Government of Britain is giving you that logistical backup. What I’m asking you is beyond the money, the Australian Federal Government isn’t really providing anything else, is that correct?
GLENN KEYS: Well, they’re providing us, and I think that’s the thing that is important because we will be and have been already canvassing Australian health worker whose will help, as well as logistics officers and environmental health officers, and we will be putting that team together as part of that delivery of service.
And I think that’s going to be great, that there will be Australians helping deliver care to the people of Sierra Leone.
EMMA ALBERICI: So what proportion of Australians compared to overseas people will you be employing to man this treatment centre?
GLENN KEYS: It will be 10 to 20 per cent
A visit to the Aspen Medical site provides the following information:
“Founded in 2003 by Glenn Keys and Dr. Andrew Walker, Aspen Medical is an Australian-owned, multi award-winning, global provider of guaranteed and innovative healthcare solutions across a diverse range of sectors and clients including Defense, Mining & Resources, Oil & Gas, Government and Humanitarian.
Our competitive advantage lies in superior project management and the quality of our team. We pride ourselves on a customer-centric approach and a ‘can do’ attitude.”
So I decided to look into “the team”.
Aspen Medical co-founder and Managing Director, Glenn Keys, has been appointed to the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), formerly known as DisabilityCare Australia.
Glenn is the only appointment from the ACT. The NDIA is an independent statutory agency, whose role is to implement the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS), which will support a better life for hundreds of thousands of Australians with a significant and permanent disability and their families and carers.
“Medical entrepreneur Andrew Walker has been accused of defrauding creditors by hiding $15 million worth of shares in tax haven the British Virgin Islands.
The liquidator of Dr Walker’s investment company, Apsara Capital, on Friday launched legal action against Dr Walker and Singapore-based businessman Georges Daniel Mercadal over the transaction.
He alleges Dr Walker ”improperly used his position to gain an advantage for himself or someone else, or cause detriment to Apsara”.
Mr Mercadal either ”wilfully shut his eyes to the obvious” or, together with Dr Walker, was part of ”a dishonest and fraudulent design” to divert the shares, he said.
The liquidator asked the court to order Dr Walker and Mr Mercadal to pay damages and return the proceeds of the alleged diversion.”
The article goes on to say
“Since founding healthcare group Aspen Medical in 2003, Dr Walker and school friend Glenn Keys have built the company into a profitable enterprise that employs 2200 people and boasts former health minister Michael Wooldridge on its board.”
A Federal Court has found the directors behind failed nursing home empire Prime Trust, including former federal health minister Michael Wooldridge, breached their corporate duties by overseeing a $33 million fee to the trust’s founder.
Justice Bernard Murphy ruled on Thursday that Dr Wooldridge and four other directors, including former Places Victoria chairman Peter Clarke, failed to act in members’ best interest by approving the fee to founder and director Bill Lewski.
Prime Trust collapsed in 2010 owing $550 million to investors. The managed investment scheme owned retirement villages in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has asked the court to disqualify the five men from being company directors and order them to pay a penalty.
Dr Wooldridge is a director on a number of company boards, including Aspen Medical, Oral Health Australia and Australian Pharmaceutical Industries, owner of Priceline.
Penalty hearings for the directors will begin early next year.They face fines of up to $200,000 and bans from company boards.
ASIC Commissioner Greg Tanzer said the Federal Court’s decision was a significant outcome for investors. ”The conduct of the APCHL board was unacceptable and today’s judgment reflects that,” he said.
The tax office is deciding whether an anti-wind farm group linked to former Liberal MPs should retain its favourable tax treatment.
The Waubra Foundation has been classified a ”health promotion charity” by the tax office, meaning its ”principal activity is promoting the prevention and control of disease in humans”.
It has also been granted deductible gift recipient status by the Australian Taxation Office, and donations of more than $2 to it are tax-deductible.
Donations to Waubra have helped fund legal challenges against wind farm developments.
Former health minister Michael Wooldridge is a director of Waubra, and former MP Alby Schultz is its patron.
The foundation says its main aim is to ”educate others about the known science relating to the adverse health impacts of infrasound and low-frequency noise.”
A lack of timely access to doctors is a common complaint these days as waiting times blow out and people must go further afield or to bulk-billing clinics in search of medical help. This shortage of doctors can partly be traced to a 1996 decision by the Howard government, under then health minister Michael Wooldridge, to reduce funding for medical education places and to cut Medicare rebates for some doctors. The government relied on figures that forecast an oversupply of doctors by 2015.
Dr Brian Morton, a Sydney GP and chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of General Practice, says: ”The information that the [Howard] government had was grossly inaccurate and shortsighted. Despite the [contrasting] figures that the AMA had at the time, the government wasn’t listening. The community is paying for that now.”
One consequence of the cuts in the ’90s has been that overseas-trained doctors have been brought in to fill the gap. A quarter of doctors practising here were qualified overseas. In 2009-10, 4700 visas were granted to medical practitioners – double the number of medical students who graduated from Australian universities. Health Workforce Australia found that by 2025 there will be about 2700 fewer doctors than Australia needs. (The shortage of nurses will be even more dramatic, with a gap of 110,000 in the same period.)
So, in summary, our Government is still doing nothing about the Ebola crisis except paying $20 million to a private company (who is a party donor and who was officially opened by Tony Abbott) who will give local Africans a ten day training course. The company’s co-founder stands accused of “improperly using his position to gain an advantage for himself” and of “defrauding creditors” by using tax havens to hide shares. Their company director, a former Liberal Minister who is largely responsible for the acute shortage of doctors in Australia and who is the director of a charitable organisation devoted to campaigning against wind farms, is now facing a ban from being on company boards for breaching his corporate duties and failing to act in members’ best interests by overseeing huge kickbacks to mates.
And they wonder why I am cynical
There has never been a better time to be a criminal in Australia — so long as you’re a white-collar criminal in the finance industry, writes Philip Soos from Deakin University comments (via The Conversation).
RECENTLY, the head of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), Greg Medcraft, called Australia a “paradise” for white-collar criminals (note image right).
The mass media has done an admirable job bringing the Commonwealth Bank (CBA) financial planner scandal to light, forcing the ASIC to finally investigate, the Senate to inquire and the CBA to apologise and provide compensation. Despite this, frauds like these are universally downplayed as isolated events, perpetrated by “bad apples” in an otherwise trustworthy FIRE (finance, insurance and real estate) sector.
Australia’s economic history shows otherwise.
Our past is littered with a surprisingly large number of control frauds, which government and regulators have done next to nothing to prevent and rarely prosecute. The mounting frauds appear emboldened by deregulation and liberalisation of banking and finance.
The following table provides an overview of the major frauds committed by the FIRE sector in recent decades:
The term “control fraud” refers to the systematic, highly damaging, institution-driven and directed nature of the fraud, in contrast to common low-level frauds. The weapon of choice is accounting.
William K. Black’s book The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One provides an excellent account of regulatory public executives who, during the United States Savings and Loan crisis in the 1980s, actively protected the worst fraudsters in the industry, while damning “mum and dad” investors. Black later developed the concept of control fraud, whereby executives use the institution they manage as the mechanism to commit fraud.
Control frauds typically involve a four-part strategy: exponential loan growth, lending to uncreditworthy borrowers, extreme leverage and minimal loss reserves (plus obnoxious pay packets for bank CEOs). The obvious presence of these four elements in Australia’s banking system demonstrates the risk to stability which lies at the centre of finance.
Why fraud goes undetected
The first is that FIRE sector executives and managers are extremely powerful politically, financially and legally, so few will tangle with them.
Secondly, during economic booms, the public is typically too self-centred to care, as long as the predations don’t affect the majority.
ASIC refuses to investigate the control frauds, instead choosing to offer up a number of excuses: lack of funding, jurisdictional boundaries, ineffective laws and so on.
Thankfully, 20-year veteran financial consumer activist Denise Brailey does what ASIC declines to do on a A$400 million dollar budget. Brailey, a criminologist, has helped unearth and sue control frauds and recalcitrant state governments over the years.
According to Brailey, Australia has two major control frauds rapidly growing without restraint: a subprime mortgage scandal and debenture-funded pyramid business scams. The former is similar to the U.S. subprime mortgage scandal.
Brailey estimates these control frauds could each cause over A$100 billion in losses. She has warned ASIC about these control frauds for over a decade.
It has never been a better time to be a criminal, as long as you’re a white-collar criminal in the FIRE sector. Bankers involved with the CBA financial planning scandal have still managed to advance their careers and win bonuses.
History enlightens us, which is why the history of control frauds isn’t taught anywhere. Political and economic elites want the public kept blind to the plague of theft they’ve been engaged in.
In Australia, this history is left to individuals like Denise Brailey and (IA contributor) Dr Evan Jones to tell, whose work was used in my recently published book, co-authored with (fellow IA contributor) Paul D. Egan.
The disparity between white and blue-collar criminals has never been larger.
If I defraud my neighbour of $10,000, I’ll be charged, prosecuted and sent to jail for years.
In contrast, a banking executive who robs borrowers and loots or destroys untold billions of dollars is praised by politicians, business groups, the mass media and the economics profession for “wealth creation”.
Australia’s credit-based banking system – liberated from responsibility by deregulation, self-regulation, de-supervision and de facto decriminalisation – has and will inevitably continue to generate toxic and recurring control frauds. The FIRE sector cannot be allowed to profit from control fraud. Government has a civic obligation to prosecute those who perform criminal acts on innocent parties. We know this as the rule of law.
Academia could offer an independent voice against these control frauds, but the legal and economics professions are mute before the FIRE sector, which employs many directly and indirectly. As Black documented, mainstream economists have intentionally ignored the dangers of control frauds, proclaiming that “private market discipline” and “rational agents” can prevent frauds from even occurring — the fallacious “market knows best” line of reasoning.
The full extent of these control frauds is yet to be revealed as the government, regulators and external dispute resolution organisations (RBA, ASIC, APRA, ATO, AFP, Treasury, FOS and COSL) resolutely refuse to investigate. Meanwhile, control frauds are free to weave a trail of forced bankruptcies, homelessness, poverty, desperation, depression and suicide.
History shows government only acts when the predations of control frauds break in the mass media. The two largest control frauds, the debenture-funded pyramid business scams and subprime mortgage scandal, are running rampant. Unfortunately, government will only grudgingly do something when the number of victims climbs far enough that they become too visible to openly ignore – but, by then, it will be too late.
Nevertheless, a Royal Commission is necessary to shine a light on the transgressions of the FIRE sector.
“He indicated to me that his point was that Australia needed to remain vigilant to ensure Australia does not become a paradise for white collar criminals.”
ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft said:
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission chairman, Greg Medcraft, told journalists at a Walkley Foundation function that “Australia is a paradise for white collar crime.”
“Often [in] Australia it’s actually worthwhile breaking the law to do the trade. You can’t have that.”
penalties for corporate crimes are too weak compared to other countries such as the United States.
“You’ve got to lift the fear to suppress greed in the white collar area.”
He said that in the US corporate tax cheats go to jail, but that does not happen in Australia.
Despite financial planning scandals at the Commonwealth Bank and Macquarie Group, Mr Medcraft said the corporate regulator had just 25 officers to regulate 30,000 financial planners.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said
ASIC needed to competently enforce the current laws and the Government would toughen penalties for white collar criminals if there was persuasive evidence of a problem.
“I asked Greg Medcraft whether he believed Australia was a paradise for white collar criminals and his direct response to me was a clear and unambiguous ‘no’,”
“He indicated to me that his point was that Australia needed to remain vigilant to ensure Australia does not become a paradise for white collar criminals.”