The barrister and his wife dodged filing their income tax returns for 16 years
Sixteen years of attempts at tax evasion have landed a Tauranga-based barrister and his wife before the Tauranga District Court.
The NZ Herald reported that self-employed immigration barrister Joseph Michael Chand pleaded guilty to 17 charges of failure to file his income tax returns for 2005-2020. The tax evasion offences brought against him amounted to $92,000.
One of these charges involved Chand’s failure to lodge the income tax returns for his wife Aneeta, who also pleaded guilty to 16 charges of knowingly failing to file her income tax returns.
The maximum penalty for the charges against Chand was five years of imprisonment and/or a fine of $50,000. The maximum penalty for the charges against his wife was $25,000 (first offence) and $50,000 (subsequent offences).
During a sentencing hearing that took place on 16 August, Inland Revenue prosecutor Daniel Phillips told the court that Chand had asked for extensions on his income tax return filings dating back to 1993. His reasons for the requests had ranged from health concerns, busyness and stress to COVID-19 fears.
Phillips said that despite the extension requests, Chand still failed to file his tax returns. Moreover, many warning and late payment notices had already been issued to the barrister.
Phillips said that as per the Inland Revenue commissioner, Chand’s offence was the fruit of a “deliberate and premeditated campaign” to avoid paying his taxes. Phillips pointed out that the value of the tax Chand had evaded over the 2005-2020 period highlighted the serious extent of the barrister’s culpability.
Although the Chands finally filed their pending tax returns last 29 July and paid all the outstanding tax to the Inland Revenue, Phillips said that Chand’s dodging of his tax obligations over such an extended period constituted a “significant breach of trust” against the tax system’s integrity.
However, the Chands’ lawyer, James Coleman, contested Phillips’ view of the couple’s high level of culpability – the couple, Coleman said, had simply failed to file their taxes on time, and had not been intentionally engaging in tax evasion. Thus, their culpability was low.
“Mr Chand had made tax payments between 2005 and 2020. He would have been entitled to a refund if the returns were filed earlier, and missed out on taxable donation credits,” Coleman told the court.
However, presiding Judge Thomas Ingram shot down Coleman’s argument, pointing out that Chand was a seasoned barrister who had been practising successfully for several years.
“The tax system is not only about the government collecting appropriate revenues from its citizens but also about fairness between citizens in paying their fair share of tax. I accept this was not an intention to evade payment of tax, but if Parliament had intended it to be treated as a less serious offence, the penalties would have been lower,” Ingram said.
The judge slammed Chand for his intentional offence even though Chand was “clearly knowledgeable about [his] legal obligations.”
Ingram sentenced the barrister to seven months of detention in consideration of his guilty plea, show of remorse, health, age (Chand is 67) and prior good character. Aneeta Chand was fined $32,000 and required to shoulder court costs.
The Chands’ business and employment earnings were supplemented by the profits from their portfolio of rental properties.