(The Sydney Morning Herald) -- Anthony Dante Castagna, the professor, venture capitalist and ex-Macquarie Bank director, regarded himself as a member of a “financial elite” who felt free to steal tax revenue from other Australians, said the judge who jailed him for a minimum of four years for tax evasion on Friday.
In jailing Castagna, Justice Christine Adamson said it was necessary to deter “those who might regard the ATO as “fair game” and those who used “obfuscation and deceit” to avoid their tax obligations.
Castagna, the driving force behind the $500 million cyber security company Nuix, “used his undoubted talents and considerable energy to increase his own wealth and the wealth of those with whom he was associated,” the NSW Supreme Court judge said.
One of the ways he increased his wealth was by using sophisticated tax avoidance schemes run by his accountant cousin Robert Agius, 68.
Castagna, 71, hid income including million-dollar bonuses through false tax returns from 1998 to 2008, depriving the Commonwealth of $2.6 million.
He arranged for payments from Macquarie Bank to be sent via a New Zealand bank account to a firm in Vanuatu controlled by Agius.
The pair then conspired to have some of the money sent back to Castagna through the repayment of fake loans.
Australian Federal Police officers, already investigating Agius over another tax fraud for which he was jailed, intercepted telephone conversations with Castagna talking guardedly about the plot.
In sentencing the cousins over their “elaborate charade”, Justice Adamson said they had displayed no contrition.
“Although Dr Castagna was honest in his dealings with others in the business community and within his family, he was prepared to steal from the Australian community at large,” Justice Adamson found.
“He had one standard of behaviour for those he knew and those who could benefit him and another for the faceless Consolidated Revenue Fund, which he was prepared to deprive of its due, to the detriment of the whole community.”
Apart from facing the confiscation of a string of properties, including his Gordon house, under proceeds of crime legislation, Castagna is also being pursued for unpaid taxes and penalties in excess of $8 million.
The judge observed that there was no evidence to suggest that these amounts would have caused “any financial hardship to Dr Castagna or his family".
As of March 2018, Nuix, which is majority-owned by Macquarie Bank, had a market value of half a billion dollars. Castagna, who helped build up the company, is understood to have shares worth $50 million, which are held via an offshore entity.
Under his stewardship, Nuix won customers such as the US homeland security department and the British anti-fraud office, as well Australian Customs and the Australian Defence Force.
But two other customers, the Australian Federal Police and the ATO, were piecing together the financial trail that would lead to the conviction of Agius and Castagna in April.
In sentencing Castagna to seven years' jail and his cousin to seven years and six months', Justice Adamson held that the offences were committed over the period of a decade and “involved deliberate, calculated dishonesty.”
“They considered themselves to be members of the financial élite who, as such, were not subject to the obligations to which others must conform,” she said.
Castagna will be first eligible for release in 2022 and Agius, already serving time for a similar tax fraud, in 2021.
Among family and friends in court was Agius' best friend, caterer Arthur Isbester who was convicted but not jailed in 2012 for recklessly dealing with the proceeds of Agius’ crime.
Isbester, whose catering company Fit for a King lists rugby league clubs St George and the Sydney Roosters as clients, allowed Agius to put $1 million dollars into his business bank accounts. Isbester then ferried brown paper bags filled with cash to Agius’s clients Phillip and Eva Southcombe, who owned the Gladesville Bridge Marina.
Agius and Isbester used the code “anchors” to discuss the monthly $30,000 cash drop to the Southcombes. For three years Isbester met the marina owners at parks near their Drummoyne and later Hunters Hill home to drop off the bags of cash. The clandestine arrangement only ceased in 2008 when the federal police arrested Agius.
As the cousins were led from the dock down to the cells below the King Street court, Castagna looked toward his wife Sandra, whose testimony Justice Adamson recalled in her remarks.
“The thing that is important in life is your health and your family,” Mrs Castagna had told the court. “But no one ever tells you what it is going to be like to lose your freedom.”