It was my misfortune recently to be the victim of a crime. This means that I’ve had dealings with our justice system up close and personal, and let me tell you, it’s not a pretty sight.
It all began when the tax agent who’s looked after my Super Fund for the last ten years suddenly went rogue and stole my tax refund. He was able to do this by virtue of him being my tax agent in the first place, because the position gives him entry to my tax portal at the ATO.
This, I’ve now learned, is like giving him my front door key and mentioning that I’d be away for the long weekend and that a very valuable package was about to be delivered.
So several thousands of my hard-earned dollars — dollars that the ATO was supposed to refund to my account — were shifted into his account instead.
Getting justice has proven to be quite difficult, so I seem to have been left with only two options. Either go mad and turn into yet another old person yelling at clouds, or
I feel your pain, Grandpa Simpson
#78 Rate the Justice System
And thanks to the great example set by Miles Barlow, there’s a precedent for scoring life’s experiences as one would review a restaurant or film. So here are my star ratings for the whole sorry saga.
1. The Criminal (hereinafter known as X)
Despite my repeated phone calls and emails to X, he has proven resistant to repaying the stolen funds. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that he had been unable to look at my problem “due to health reasons” before adding that “the only thing I can think is that another client … [with a name identical to yours] … owed us money and had agreed to us receiving her refund.”
Really, X? That’s the only thing you can think?
Verdict: ***** No stars
2. The Lawyers
The lawyers sprang into action for me. They were outraged! The man was a criminal who had committed fraud and irrespective of his company’s ability to pay, he had stolen this money and was therefore personally liable. A very stiff letter, outlining sections and subsections of the Corporations Act was sent demanding X return my money … or else. The lawyers even had the chutzpah to add “your assertion that these changes were intended to apply to another of your clients named …[exactly the same name as our client] … is, frankly, absurd.”
I was buoyed by this, even more so when X responded asking them how much he owed me now, including their fees. That was until a report came out in the local newspaper:
…it was pointed out to me that trusting anyone who’d
wear a lime green tie might have been my first mistake.
It turned out X owed over a million dollars and had assets of about $15,000. So my lawyers reluctantly, but kindly, suggested that any further action on my part might be throwing good money after bad. I had to agree with them.
Verdict: ***** Four stars. (At least they tried)
3. The Police
If you can avoid living on the border between two states, I’d urge you to take that option. I live in New South Wales. X ran his business across the Murray River in Victoria. My experience with the police has thus far entailed both me and my statement bouncing from one side of the river to the other for several weeks as they decide which jurisdiction should handle it and whether to call it fraud (NSW) or theft (Vic).
My statement’s currently down a rabbit hole somewhere in Victoria, but they’ve assured me they’ll ring me back the minute they find it. Very, very soon, or possibly even earlier.
Verdict: ***** Two stars.
(They are trying. In more ways than one)
4. The Liquidator
So then I rang the liquidator and spoke to his offsider, a youthful sounding lawyer by the name of Will. Such a perfect name for someone who comes in at the death of a business.
Will didn’t say it in so many words, but after he’d explained that I was at the back of a long line of creditors, with the Tax Office at the front of the queue, I gathered that the likelihood of ever seeing my stolen money was even more remote than my chance of visiting Antarctica soon.
Verdict: ***** Three stars. (It’s not his fault
that the cupboard is bare).
5. The ATO
It seemed a reasonable idea to lodge a complaint to the tax ombudsman. After all, the ATO knew X’s business was heavily in debt to them as they were the ones who wound it up, so why would they meekly pay my tax return to him without checking with me first?
Nope. Not our fault, they said. It was ASIC who had the strike-off action against his business, not us. We just entered the game at the end. So move along, please, nothing to see here.
Verdict : ***** One star. (I bet it’d be my fault
if the roles were reversed)
6. The Regulator
Make sure you report X to the Tax Practitioner’s Board (TPB), everyone from the lawyers to the police, the ATO to the liquidator, exhorted me. The TPB won’t stand for this behaviour. They’ll come down on this miscreant like a ton of bricks.
So I lodged a complaint with the TPB, was heartened when the case officer took a keen interest in my complaint, elated that she understood all the points I made, relieved when she said the Board took these issues very seriously.
Then I received this letter from the Board:
No further action after one of their own stole money from his client? Ton of bricks indeed! More like a piddling pile of Lego.
Verdict: ****** Minus one star. (The extra deduction’s for using
the term ‘incorrectly’ instead of ‘feloniously’)
Quite frankly, I’m a bit disappointed. For years I’ve watched the opening credits of the TV show Law and Order tell me that in the criminal justice system the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. And their stories are always resolved in an hour.
Sadly, this awful episode, which just drags on and on, has been my story.
Verdict: ***** One star