Authorities have revealed a Sydney lawyer was sentenced to 12 years in jail for his role in a syndicate alleged to have defrauded the Commonwealth of more than $105 million worth of unpaid tax over three years.
Following the lifting of a non-publication order, the Australian Tax Office (ATO) reports Rose Bay man Sevag Chalabian was given the sentence in June 2022 for his role in knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime, being amounts blackmailed from offenders participating in the syndicate.
He was found guilty of dealing in proceeds of crime worth $1 million or more, and received a non-parole period of seven years and six months.
Assets in a trust account controlled by Chalabian were also restrained.
The non-publication order was lifted following the close of an 11-month trial in the Supreme Court of NSW in relation to Operation Elbrus - a case through which five people have now been found guilty.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) Assistant Commissioner Kirsty Schofield said this outcome was the result of diligent investigation and financial analysis in the wake of the initial Operation Elbrus arrests.
“This arrest came from a thorough and forensic analysis of the money that flowed out of the largescale tax fraud, highlighting the commitment of all involved in this matter,” she said.
“As we gathered more evidence of the blackmail conspiracy, we were able to link it to the flow of millions of dollars from syndicate members that were facilitated by this man.
“This sentence should send a clear message to those engaged in criminal behaviour – we will always follow the money, and often it can lead to criminal charges or asset confiscation, or both.”
Acting Australian Taxation Office (ATO) Deputy Commissioner and Serious Financial Crime Taskforce (SFCT) Chief John Ford said the sentence reflected the severity of his offending.
“This is a significant result, highlighting that we will protect Australia’s revenue, and we will hold criminals to account," Ford said.
“This was the eighth sentencing outcome for Operation Elbrus, and we have continued to see successful outcomes progressing through the courts.”
Operation Elbrus was an investigation led by the AFP, with significant assistance from the ATO as part of the SFCT, into a large-scale and organised tax fraud conspiracy.
The operation exposed a large-scale and organised tax fraud and money laundering conspiracy that used Plutus Payroll Australia Pty Ltd and other payroll service entities to divert amounts of money payable to the ATO as Pay-As-You-Go Withholding (PAYGW) tax and Goods and Services Tax for the conspirators’ benefit.
Chalabian was a solicitor at the time of his arrest. He provided the mechanism for disguising that over $24 million received into and then transferred out of his legal practice’s trust account was the proceeds of crime derived from other persons blackmailing the Plutus tax fraud conspirators of some of the proceeds of their fraud.
In respect of his role, Justice Peter Johnson remarked he was an indispensable participant in laundering the proceeds of the crime:
"The offender, as a solicitor, played a critical role in the offending, utilising his professional status as a solicitor and access to a trust account which provided a level of cover for the criminal activity involved," Justice Johnson said.
Justice Johnson also found that his offending was in the high range of objective gravity for offences of this kind, reflecting substantial moral culpability.
"We have a wide net, where we’re focusing on financial criminals and professional enablers who choose to commit serious financial crime. If you become involved, you will be caught," he said.
"Tax crime affects everyone. The Plutus tax fraud ripped off innocent creditors and deprived the public of valuable funds that could otherwise be used to fund essential services."
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