Fronting the Heidelberg Magistrates Court on Wednesday, Raed Saleh pleaded guilty to three counts of making a false and misleading statement to the Commissioner of Taxation, and was fined $3,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $3,000 and costs of $282.
Mr Saleh, who had applied for JobKeeper in May and June 2020, claimed he was a sole trader who had experienced a downturn of at least 30 per cent. He also told the ATO that his business met all eligibility requirements and that he had not agreed to be nominated by any other employer or entity.
However, an ATO investigation found that Mr Saleh’s claims were false, that he hadn’t been operating a genuine business and had already agreed to be nominated by his full-time employer for the wage subsidy.
The false claims earned Mr Saleh $3,000 in May 2020, before his claim in June was thwarted by the ATO.
Likening fraud against the stimulus measures to fraud against the community, ATO Deputy Commissioner Will Day welcomed the conviction, condemning theft from the community at a time “when it needs it most”.
“We have an important role to ensure the integrity of the stimulus measures,” Mr Day said. “And when we uncover fraud or people seeking to exploit them, we will take action, as we know the community would expect us to do.
“We know most people are honest, and we work with employers to overcome genuine mistakes.
“However, as this case demonstrates, where people deliberately seek to exploit the stimulus measures, we will put a stop to it and apply the full force of the law.”
The conviction comes after the ATO seeks to recover about $155 million in JobKeeper payments made to businesses thought to have made deliberate or reckless eligibility errors.
A further $50 million has been classified as honest mistakes, and will not be pursued by the ATO.
A total of $84 billion in JobKeeper payments have since been made to over 1 million businesses. The program will expire on 28 March.
Revealing those figures earlier this month, ATO second commissioner Jeremy Hirschhorn told the parliamentary committee that the ATO had levied penalties between 25 and 75 per cent for 43 JobKeeper cases, with a further 14 under consideration.
At the time, five matters involving potential fraud were passed on to the Serious Financial Crime Taskforce, with another two up for consideration.
A further two entities were involved in a case active at the time for producing false or misleading statements in relation to the program.
John Buckley is a journalist at Accountants Daily.
Before joining the team in 2021, John worked at The Sydney Morning Herald. His reporting has featured in a range of outlets including The Washington Post, The Age, and The Saturday Paper.