Revenue Minister Stuart Nash and Customs Minister Kris Faafoi are encouraging feedback on a proposal to extend an information sharing agreement designed to crack down on organised crime.
Since 2014 Inland Revenue and Police have worked together under the Serious Crimes Information Sharing Agreement where they have reasonable grounds to suspect a serious offence is being committed. The government proposes extending that agreement to include the Customs Service and the Serious Fraud Office.
“Police and tax authorities work together well when they suspect a serious crime, punishable by a prison term of four years or more, is being committed. We have released a discussion document calling for public submissions on the proposal to include two more agencies under the same framework,” Mr Nash says.
“Under the proposal, the one-way flow of information from the IRD would be extended to the SFO and Customs. Information could be requested from IRD or proactively provided if there are reasonable grounds to suspect a serious offence may be or has been committed.
“Inland Revenue is usually prevented from revealing details of individual taxpayers. However the Privacy Act makes an exception to the general secrecy rule if there is an approved information sharing agreement, or AISA,” Mr Nash says.
Mr Faafoi says an extension to the existing AISA would make it easier for the Customs Service to investigate and track unlawful imports and transactions.
“The IRD could for example share information from tax audits which show significant amounts of money flowing through a bank account which are not related to core business activities. Further investigation by Customs could reveal potential smuggling of drugs or other contraband across our borders,” Mr Faafoi says.
“Government agencies need to work more closely together to disrupt and prevent illicit cross-border activity that not only evades taxes but also leads to harm in our communities,” Mr Faafoi says.
Submissions are open till 30 October 2018. The discussion document is available at taxpolicy.ird.govt.nz.
Question and Answers
1. What are the main changes proposed by this AISA?
The change is the extension of the original agreement between NZ Police and Inland Revenue, to include two agencies in the sharing of information – NZ Customs Service and the Serious Fraud Office.
The information would be shared with the two additional agencies utilising the same framework that Inland Revenue and the New Zealand Police use to share information for tackling serious crime.
2. How will the new Agreement help agencies prevent serious crime?
The ability to share information held by Inland Revenue with other agencies could open up new lines of enquiry and provide clearer pictures of legitimate revenue streams and illegitimate money, linking individuals and businesses that might be involved in criminal activity.
3. How does this proposed AISA improve information sharing between agencies?
By expanding the AISA to include the Serious Fraud Office and the NZ Customs Service, Inland Revenue would be able to share information with these agencies to help investigations of fraud, corruption and cross-border offences that fit the serious crime definition. Sharing information for this purpose is consistent with the Government’s commitment to making communities safer and reducing crime.
4. What measures are in place to ensure the Privacy of individuals’ information?
The proposed AISA would include controls and processes to minimise any risk of a privacy or secrecy breach occurring. Alongside the protections of the strict secrecy requirements imposed on staff and anyone who receives tax information, the information will be shared on a case-by-case basis and will need to meet a set of criteria to be shared (such as relation to a serious crime and relevance to a case). Information would be available only to authorised staff in each agency to ensure that information is treated appropriately. Staff who knowingly disclose information outside what is legally permitted would face potential criminal liability for breaching taxpayer secrecy.
5. What are the benefits of the extended information sharing?
Information provided by Inland Revenue would assist in providing new leads to an investigation and strengthening serious criminal cases such as fraud, financial crime, money laundering, and drug trafficking. This would support the Government’s objective of giving the NZ Police and the NZ Customs Service the resources they need to crack down on gangs, organised crime and drug trafficking.
6. What will be the cost of setting it up?
For all three agencies, implementation costs would be minimal. The proposed changes do not require any systems or technology changes as the information shared is compiled manually on a case-by-case basis and sent by secure mail.
7. What impact will the extended information sharing / AISA have on individuals whose information is held by the concerned agencies?
The information will only be shared if related to a suspicion of a serious crime, so it won’t affect the majority of individuals whose information is held by the agencies.