Tauranga barrister and wife convicted for multiple tax evasion offences

A Tauranga barrister must serve seven months’ home detention for multiple tax evasion offences totalling $92,000 which he paid to Inland Revenue just days before sentencing.

Joseph Michael Chand, 67, appeared in the Tauranga District Court on August 16 for sentencing after earlier pleading guilty to 17 representative charges.

The 17 charges were failing to provide income tax returns with the intention to evade the assessment or payment of tax for the income years 2005 to 2020.

Each charge attracts a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

One of the representative charges related to his failure to file 16 tax returns on behalf of his wife Aneeta Chand for the same 16 year income period.

Each charge attracts a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.

Aneeta Kumari Chand, 66, a lab technician manager, also earlier pleaded guilty to 16 charges of knowingly failing to provide income tax returns.

Her charges attract a maximum fine of $25,000 for the first offence and $50,000 for each subsequent offence.

More details of the couple’s offending were revealed during a lengthy sentencing hearing presided over by Judge Thomas Ingram.

Chand, a self-employed immigration barrister and his wife, who works in the healthcare industry as a lab technician/manager, knowingly failed to file these tax returns.

This was despite having received business and employment earnings, as well as income from their sizeable rental property portfolio.

The court also heard that since 1993 Chand repeatedly sought multiple extensions of time to file the required returns, and engaged in protracted communications with Inland Revenue.

He also provided numerous and repeated excuses for not doing so, and that continued during the 16-year period this prosecution related to.

That included health issues, various difficulties obtaining information, being too busy due to work, study and family commitments, Covid-19 concerns, as well as being stressed.

Inland Revenue’s prosecutor Daniel Phillips argued the starting point for sentence must be prison or at very least home detention for Chand, who was the principal offender.

Phillips said the amount of tax Chand had evaded totalled $92,000 and his culpability was “very high” and both defendants’ offending was “entirely intentional”.

In the Inland Revenue Commissioner’s view, this offending was the result of a “deliberate and premeditated campaign” by Chand to try to avoid his tax obligations, he said.

Numerous warning notices and late payment notices were sent to him and the defendant made numerous requests for extensions and yet still failed to file returns, he said.

Phillips said the IRD Commissioner accepted that Judge Ingram must take into account that all outstanding returns were filed on July 29 and all tax owed now paid.

However, Chand’s offending in particular, over such an extended period was a “significant breach of trust” against the integrity of the tax system, he said.

Phillips submitted a fine of between $6250 and $8750 for Aneeta Chand was appropriate for each of her 16 charges.

The Chands’ lawyer James Coleman argued that a sentence of community detention and a possible fine for Chand was more appropriate.

And a $750 fine for each charge for Mrs Chand, he submitted.

Coleman said this prosecution related a”very unusual set of facts” as did not involve any fraud by the couple but rather failures to file returns in the required timeframes.

“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 said that was why he took issue with the Inland Revenue Commissioner taking into account the full $92,000 assessed income tax.

Despite the Chands’ guilty pleas, there was no deliberate attempt to evade the payment of tax, and this offending was “at the lower end of the culpability spectrum’.

Judge Ingram soundly rejected the proposition, particularly given that Chand was “a highly successful experienced barrister of the court” over many 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,” he said.

“I must denounce you Mr Chand for wilfully failing to meet your obligations … The purpose of the tax system is equity and transparency … Those who don’t pay tax, live on the cheap, and that is no minor matter.

“Mr Chand, your continued and repeated requests for deferments and offering excuse after excuse over many years only adds significantly to the gravity of your offending.

“For someone so well educated and clearly knowledgeable about your legal obligations, this is a very serious matter, Mr Chand,” the judge said.

Judge Ingram sentenced him to seven months’ home detention after taking into account his guilty pleas, remorse, age, previous good character and ill-health status.

The judge fined Mrs Chand a total of $32,000 and ordered her to pay court costs, after also taking into account her guilty pleas, her age, remorse and prior good character.

The couple were both first-time offenders before the courts.

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