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Lehrmann warning in $13m tax scam case

DODGY CONSTRUCTION BOSS
Construction boss George Alex is accused of operating a multimillion dollar fraud ring. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Simon Bullard.

Construction boss George Alex is on trial over allegations he was involved in a criminal syndicate that defrauded the Australian Taxation Office out of more than $13m, which he used for his own benefit.

He faced the NSW Supreme Court on Monday alongside his son, Arthur Alex, and alleged syndicate members Gordon McAndrew, Lindsay Kirschberg, Pasquale Loccisano and Mark Bryers.

All six men have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to cause a loss to the Commonwealth from mid-2018 to mid-2020 in Sydney and the Gold Coast.

The alleged fraudsters have also denied conspiring to deal with $1m or more while knowing it was the proceeds of a crime.

DODGY CONSTRUCTION BOSS
George Alex allegedly led a criminal network in defrauding the Australian Taxation Office out of $13m. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Simon Bullard.

Prosecutors allege the men withheld more than $13.1m, which should have been paid to the ATO in pay as you go (PAYG) withholding tax, over two years.

In his opening address, crown prosecutor Chris O’Donnell SC said a “substantial amount” of the allegedly stolen funds were used to benefit the six conspirators.

He told the jury the men had “developed and implemented” a scheme to misappropriate money that should have been paid to the tax office.

The men operated three labour hire companies that provided employees for construction businesses in NSW and Queensland, including industry titan Multiplex.

Instead of paying wages and entitlements to workers through the hire companies, Mr O’Donnell claimed the alleged conspirators created shell companies as a “shield”.

He told the court that the second-tier companies would amass PAYG debts and then be “pulled down” when they were likely to attract the attention of the tax office.

“That was the primary strategy the conspirators used to shield themselves from the ATO,” the crown prosecutor said.

“It was in effect a revolving door.”

DODGY CONSTRUCTION BOSS
Mr Alex and his son Arthur Alex will face a months-long trial in the state’s highest court. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Simon Bullard.

The jury was told George Alex, Gordon McAndrew, Pasquale Loccisano and Lindsay John Kirschberg were the founding fathers of the criminal syndicate in 2018.

Mark Bryers allegedly became involved a year later before Arthur Alex joined in 2020.

The younger Mr Alex is also charged with dealing with more than $1m in money and property that he knew was the proceeds of a crime over the same two year period.

The trial will be a family affair, with George Alex’s wife Nectaria being called to give evidence.

Justice Desmond Fagan will preside over the trial for the next six months in the state’s highest court.

He warned the 15 jurors to listen carefully to the evidence and reminded them they are “absolutely forbidden” to conduct their own research into the allegations.

Justice Fagan reminded the jury of the “notorious” criminal trial of Bruce Lehrmann, who was charged with sexually assaulting Brittany Higgins in Parliament House in 2021. He has consistently denied the allegation.

LEHRMANN
The jury was reminded that the criminal trial of Bruce Lehrmann was abandoned due to juror misconduct. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Monique Harmer

The trial was abandoned in 2022 after a juror did their own research and discussed their findings with the other jurors.

A similar result for this trial would be “disastrous”, the Supreme Court justice told the 11 men and four women.

The jury will hear 130 hours of conversations between the six accused fraudsters, which were either captured during tapped phone calls or by strategically placed listening devices.

The devices were planted in January 2019 after the Australian Federal Police obtained a warrant as part of their national investigation into the alleged payroll fraud.

A year and a half later, all six accused fraudsters were arrested and charged with misappropriating millions.