Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Accountant's tax debt tops $400m

John Russell's lawyer, Simon Judd, said the tax department was influenced by irrelevant factors, including Russell's bouts of litigation with IRD over decades. Phoro / Thinkstock
John Russell's lawyer, Simon Judd, said the tax department was influenced by irrelevant factors, including Russell's bouts of litigation with IRD over decades. Phoro / Thinkstock

A 79-year-old accountant being chased for a $367 million tax debt has asked the High Court for orders to prevent Inland Revenue bankrupting him before his latest legal bid is heard.

John George Russell's tax debt - the bulk of which is interest and penalties - has ballooned to more than $400 million.

The IRD in June won a judgment for $367 million against Russell, who developed a template that the Court of Appeal called a "blatant tax-avoidance scheme".

Russell is not yet giving up the fight and has filed an application for a judicial review over the tax department refusing his proposal to pay $1000 a week against the debt for the rest of his life.

No date has been set for this proceeding but Russell yesterday asked the High Court for orders to stop the IRD taking any more enforcement action against him - including bankruptcy - pending the outcome of the judicial review bid.

Russell's lawyer, Simon Judd, said the IRD had not considered the relevant factors in the law when assessing whether or not to accept Russell's $1000-a-week instalment proposal.

Judd said the tax department was influenced by irrelevant factors, including Russell's bouts of litigation with IRD over decades. Russell's lawyer said it was accepted his client would not live long enough to repay the entire debt.

IRD lawyer Pauline Courtney, opposing the interim orders, said the instalment proposal would not even keep on top of the interest and penalties and would mean the debt would continue to grow.

She said Russell's judicial review wasn't tenable and submitted that the IRD had considered relevant factors and given six reasons why the instalment proposal was not accepted.

Justice Pamela Andrews reserved her decision.

Between the late 1970s and 2000, Russell established what the Court of Appeal has said was an "elaborate, maze-like structure of companies, partnerships and trust", and provided advice on how others could avoid tax through their participation in the Russell template.

The IRD argued that through the use of a partnership, Russell avoided paying tax on income earned through Russell template transactions.

It reassessed Russell's personal income and said he should have declared income of $15.76 million between 1985 and 2000 instead of $298,700.

The original tax bill was around $5 million but penalties and interest inflated it.

- NZ Herald

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