PwC’s Irish firm has been swept up in the fallout from a leak of confidential information by a former partner of the Australian branch of the Big Four accountancy network.
Peter-John Collins, former tax partner of PwC Australia, who was banned from his profession as a tax agent in January after sharing confidential information about Canberra’s plans to crack down on multinational tax evasion, sought PwC Ireland’s dealings with technology companies in the United States to tap to share his insights.
That’s according to information contained in partially redacted PwC internal emails released last week by an Australian Senate committee investigating the matter.
The emails showed how PwC Australia disclosed Mr. Collins used to win new business by advising clients on Australian anti-tax avoidance rules before they were announced.
Mr Collins was a member of an advisory group involved in discussions with the Australian Treasury and had signed strict confidentiality agreements on briefings that took place between 2013 and 2018.
The emails released show that on April 17, 2015, Mr Collins wrote a letter to a colleague at PwC Ireland, whose identity has been obscured, saying he was helping the Australian government “think about” tax proposals that he expected they would be released in the country. than the next budget.
“There may be a few other points that could also be of interest to IT companies, but no final decision has been made on any of these proposals at this time,” he wrote.
“I understand that you work closely with a number of companies in this industry, but my experience is that our relationships in this industry are patchy in the US. I just wanted to see if there is anyone in our network you know that I should chat with regarding these measures; both from the perspective of learning from experiences elsewhere and/or helping these businesses (if they need them) understand new Australian rules.
The PwC Ireland persona – whom the company declined to name when asked by The Irish Times – replied in an email, copied to two other PwC Ireland staff, that they had been monitoring developments in Australia and suggested that the following week hold a chat.
There are no details about any follow-up in the released email chain. There is also no indication that anyone at PwC Ireland knew that Mr Collins wanted to share information that was the subject of non-disclosure agreements.
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A spokeswoman for PwC Ireland declined to say whether the company has provided Mr Collins with a list of multinational technology companies that may be interested in his insights, or whether the company has looked into communications between the Irish practice and Mr Collins. The Republic is the European headquarters of a large number of American technology giants.
According to the press release from the Australian Senate Committee, other emails were sent by Mr Collins to PwC network colleagues in Australia, the UK and the US.
Australia’s Department of Finance states on its website that it is “leading the global fight against multinational tax avoidance and tackling tax evasion by taxpayers with a number of reforms” announced as part of the 2016-2017 budget. However, accounting firms would have helped their clients find ways to minimize the impact of the regulations.
An email circulated between PwC Australia employees in January 2016 celebrated $2.5 million in project profits in the US that were “greatly aided by the accuracy of information Peter Collins was able to provide”. It added that PwC Australia was working with PwC US, PwC Singapore and PwC Netherlands on new business.
PwC Australia CEO Tom Seymour resigned earlier this week after it emerged he was one of dozens of the firm’s partners who received emails about confidential information obtained by Mr Collins.
Mr Seymour reportedly told PwC Australia partners that although he and another 30-40 partners had received the emails and were aware of a plan to use tax reform information to pitch clients, he and the others in this group did not know that the information was confidential.