Thursday, October 08, 2009

Westpac stole from the taxpayer

That is the conclusion of the High Court in a case brought by IRD against Westpac. The Australian-owned bank structured its finances to illegally evade taxes. They're now being forced to repay $961 million plus interest they effectively stole from the taxpayer.

That's all well and good, but I have to ask: what about punishment? If someone steals a TV, we don't just make them give it back - we stick them in jail or charge them a fine. Shouldn't we be doing the same to corporate criminals, or does their wealth put them above the law?

Fining them is no good - that punishes the shareholders, not the people responsible. If we want to end corporate tax evasion, then we could start by imposing personal liability on the smarmy accountants who come up with these clever schemes, and the greedy executives who approve them. I suspect they'd be a lot more careful and ethical in heir behaviour if they personally faced jail for their thefts, rather than merely losing their bonus...