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The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has for the first time confirmed that employers are facing criminal charges for rorting JobKeeper.

ATO Commissioner Chris Jordan told the Senate’s Select Committee on COVID-19 during a public hearing last week that “there are people facing criminal charges as a result of our joint investigations [with the Australian Federal Police (AFP)]”.

Appearing via video link alongside James O’Halloran, the ATO’s deputy commissioner responsible for the $101 billion JobKeeper program, Jordan told the committee that “in relation to potential fraudulent behaviour” about 50 matters had been referred for potential ATO-led criminal investigation, some of which were expected to result in charges “soon”.

The AFP is also leading 11 JobKeeper-related Serious Financial Crime Taskforce operations, Jordan said.

Jordan said ahead of questioning that he wanted to offer the committee “some assurance . . . on the integrity of our compliance approach”.

“From our preliminary analysis across each of the measures I can confirm that the vast majority of Australians have done the right thing and only claimed the amounts they were entitled to,” he said.

“That said, JobKeeper, early release of super, and cash flow boost, which hasn’t had as much publicity as it probably should are all completely new schemes, and we always expected some people might make honest mistakes, despite trying their best, as well as, people dishonestly trying to rip off the system.

“Our compliance approach takes that into account – and makes sure that people who make mistakes get the push they need in the right direction, while those that seek to take advantage are held to account.”

“Full force of the law”

Jordan said that the ATO’s compliance checks had stopped more than 55,000 ineligible JobKeeper applications “at the very first stage” and delayed $1 billion in payments to more than 75,000 applicants to avoid making incorrect payments.

While 48,000 employers had been asked to provide additional evidence to support their claims, Jordan said that of the small proportion who “got something wrong” most had simply made an honest mistake and needed some help to “get it right”.

“But let me be clear – our response for those trying to deliberately rort the system is very different,” Jordan said.

“In those cases, we will bring down the full force of the law.

“These behaviours include claiming for individuals who are not employees, manipulation of turnover, and false claims where there is no business activity at all.

“Australians rightly expect that stimulus payments will go to only those who are eligible to receive it.

“They are also right to expect that there will be serious consequences for those that seek to undermine the system.”

Estimated to have supported four million workers since its introduction in March, the JobKeeper program will next Monday be extended for a further six months, during which the Morrison Government projects the number of recipients to fall to 1.75 million.

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