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Wheat Group Gets Tax Victory

Despite ruling that payments were a bribe, AWB convinces the Australian Taxation Office that kickbacks were a business expense.

AWB has succeeded in its quest to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in kickbacks to Iraq as a tax deductible business expense.

AWB has today received written confirmation today from the Australian Taxation Office stating that it has finalized the AWB Group business audit for the years ended 30 September 2000 to 2004 inclusive, in relation to payments under the Oil-for- Food program.

AWB says the ATO has accepted that for the reasons set out in the Cole Inquiry report, payments made by AWB under the United Nations Oil-for-Food program do not constitute bribes to foreign public officials for the purposes of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997.

An irritated Treasurer Peter Costello says the decision was unavoidable after Commissioner Terence Cole found AWB did not act illegally in paying transport fees to Alia. Mr Costello hinted though that legislative changes may be needed to prevent a recurrence of the situation.

"We'll have a very careful look at the Cole Commission and look at it from a policy point of view, but we're not going to relitigate the Cole Commission.

"There should be no tax deduction for a bribe ... and that's what we put into the law.

"Now, if a court finds or a Royal Commissioner finds something, whatever may be my personal view, that's the law."

The decision has outraged Labor, with shadow assistant treasurer, Chris Bowen, saying the Government blocked amendments to the Tax Act that were introduced by the Opposition earlier this year.

"Taxpayers will be outraged to learn that they have subsidised bribes to brutal former Iraqi remige to the amount of $90 million," Mr Bowen said.

SOURCE: Rural Press National News Bureau, Parliament House, Canberra.

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