Tax fraud accountant's evidence 'inconsistent'

HAMISH MCNICOL
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2014

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Evidence given by a tax fraudster who claimed his wife had tried to kill herself in a "desperate attempt" to keep his name suppressed has been found by the High Court to be "vague, evasive and inconsistent".

Wellington accountant Imran Mohammad Kamal has now been named as one of the players in a high-profile tax evasion case after the High Court overturned an earlier suppression order based on Kamal's claims his wife had taken a handful of sleeping pills, and a counsellor's assessment that she was a suicide risk.

Late last year, a written assessment of the mental health of Kamal's wife and stories of her attempted suicide in July were questioned in the High Court in Wellington.

He had been granted suppression in September, having been earlier accused of tax fraud along with Brent John Gilchrist and Scott Crawford Anderson.

Kamal had pleaded guilty and was later a witness at the trial of the other two. He pleaded guilty to six counts of knowingly providing false tax returns and was sentenced to 3 months home detention and 150 hours community work.

In total, he defrauded the Inland Revenue Department of about $56,000 during 2006 and 2007.

The trio generated fake invoices of $137,000, paid for work never done, from which Kamal claimed GST and income tax deductions.

His business, Accountants First, has continued to operate, and Kamal has a client base of more than 700.

But Gilchrist, who was convicted and is serving 10 months' home detention, had since raised details about a possible conflict of interest.

The counsellor who provided the "suicide risk" assessment for the man's wife was found to be a client of Kamal's, who herself owed a debt to Inland Revenue.

Upon receiving this information, Inland Revenue applied to revoke the man's name suppression.

In September, Justice Joseph Williams had found evidence with regards to the mental health of Kamal's wife, including an attempted suicide, showed a clear link between publication and danger to her.

"There is independent clinical evidence that indicates publication could well lead to a second and perhaps successful suicide attempt."

But lawyer Dale La Hood argued the latest evidence in relation to the wife's suicide attempt meant it was either false or seriously inadequate.

Kamal had claimed his wife was taken to hospital after she overdosed on sleeping pills.

However, the hospital had no record of her ever visiting, and there were numerous discrepancies between his affidavit and his evidence in court.

"Mr Kamal has lied in a desperate attempt to gain name suppression," La Hood said. "He says it's a mistake; the Crown says it's more than that."

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Justice Williams' judgment was made on December 19 last year, though suppression did not lapse until last Friday to give the family time to come to terms with publication of Kamal's name.

The judgment said Kamal's explanation lacked credibility and his evidence was "vague, evasive and inconsistent".

Throughout the hearing Kamal had constantly referred to his wife as being very unwell and suicidal, but often failed to provide details when asked.

Justice Williams said Kamal's original affidavit, from which suppression was originally granted, could no longer be relied upon.

Furthermore, an assessment provided by counsellor Ruta Tanielu-Etuale could no longer be replied upon.

It was argued she may not be qualified enough to give an opinion as to the risk of suicide, and also had a possible conflict of interest in giving such a statement.

The Crown raised concerns about several phone calls between Tanielu-Etuale and Kamal, as well as a chain of emails "accidentally" deleted when Inland Revenue asked to see them. Her company, Pacific Addiction and General Counselling Services, had been listed with the Companies Office as sharing an address with Kamal's business, though this was later changed.

Justice Williams said he had serious concerns as to the independence and truthfulness of her report.

Inland Revenue had alleged Kamal himself had written the suicide risk assessment on one of Tanielu-Etuale's letterheads.

Justice Williams said there was no doubt Kamal's wife was in a state of distress at the prospect of her husband's name being published. But there was now no reliable evidence she had attempted suicide in the past and any future risk could be mitigated by family support and professional help.

He was satisfied the suppression order ought to be revoked.

Inland Revenue group tax counsel Graham Tubb said the decision to lift name suppression for Kamal reinforced the message that those who participated and facilitated tax evasion and fraud should be held publicly accountable.

"By acting as he did, Kamal has abused the trust placed in him and also used his knowledge and his position to try and cheat the system, but for all that, he still failed and will bear the consequences."

Gilchrist, who had discovered the initial conflict of interest, has also questioned Kamal's work history and the credentials he has listed on his website and LinkedIn profile. Kamal claimed to have been a senior auditor at Deloitte, but Deloitte communications manager Matt Huntington said there was no record of Kamal being employed there.

Gilchrist is considering filing a private prosecution alleging perjury by Kamal during Gilchrist's own trial last year.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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