Three Charged Over Alleged COVID-19 Superannuation Scam

by Sonia Hickey & Ugur Nedim

Three women from Queensland have been charged after allegedly attempting to access other people’s superannuation.

Police allege the women submitted false claims to gain early access to other people’s superannuation, and charged them with a range of offences including:

  • Conspiring to dishonestly obtain personal financial information,
  • Conspiring to receive a designated service using a false customer name, and
  • Conspiring to give false or misleading information to a Commonwealth entity.

The AFP says it has arrested seven people in relation to fraudulent superannuation activity since the early superannuation release scheme was announced by Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg in March 2020, as part of the national COVID-19 economic stimulus package.

Australians with superannuation who are suffering severe financial hardship are entitled to access a total of $10,000 of their super during the financial year 2020 and if necessary, again in the financial year 2021.

The latest trio to be charged are alleged to have been attempting to defraud the scheme of $113,000 and will appear in court again in September 2020.

The ATO is checking on super drawdowns

By July 2020,  about half a million Australians had already accessed their super, prompting fears that some Aussies were taking advantage of the scheme.

As a result, the Australian Tax Office says it intends to review applications carefully to ensure that those people who withdrew the money are genuinely in need of it.

Anyone who has not met the strict eligibility criteria for early drawdown, will face tough penalties.

Superannuation was introduced to Australia in the 1990s as a way of phasing out the government funded aged pension scheme, with the idea being that people would save throughout their working years to fund their own retirement until death.

As such, the rules relating to superannuation are regulated by Federal Legislation. When the Federal Government introduced limited early access to superannuation at the start of COVID-19, it was unprecedented and may not happen again – at least not in the short term.

Warning to keep personal information secure

In the meantime the AFP has also warned all Australians to ensure that their online details for banking, investment and super accounts are secure to ensure they are not susceptible to fraud or cyber security breaches.

The charges

The charges relate to Commonwealth Offences which are set out in the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The Act provides as follows:

135.1  General dishonesty

Obtaining a gain

(1)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a gain from another person; and

(b)  the other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 5 years.

(2)  In a prosecution for an offence against subsection (1), it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew that the other person was a Commonwealth entity.

Causing a loss

(3)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person; and

(b)  the other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 5 years.

(4)  In a prosecution for an offence against subsection (3), it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew that the other person was a Commonwealth entity.

(5)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person dishonestly causes a loss, or dishonestly causes a risk of loss, to another person; and

(b)  the first-mentioned person knows or believes that the loss will occur or that there is a substantial risk of the loss occurring; and

(c)  the other person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 5 years.

(6)  Absolute liability applies to the paragraph (5)(c) element of the offence.

Influencing a Commonwealth public official

(7)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly influencing a public official in the exercise of the official’s duties as a public official; and

(b)  the public official is a Commonwealth public official; and

(c)  the duties are duties as a Commonwealth public official.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 5 years.

(8)  In a prosecution for an offence against subsection (7), it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew:

(a)  that the official was a Commonwealth public official; or

(b)  that the duties were duties as a Commonwealth public official.

135.2  Obtaining financial advantage

(1)  A person is guilty of an offence if the person obtains a financial advantage for himself or herself from a Commonwealth entity knowing or believing that he or she is not eligible to receive that financial advantage.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 12 months.

(2)  A person is guilty of an offence if the person obtains a financial advantage for another person from a Commonwealth entity knowing or believing that the other person is not eligible to receive that financial advantage.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 12 months.

(3)  For the purposes of subsection (2), a person is taken to have obtained a financial advantage for another person from a Commonwealth entity if the first-mentioned person induces the Commonwealth entity to do something that results in the other person obtaining the financial advantage.

(4)  The definition of obtaining in section 130.1 does not apply to this section.

135.4  Conspiracy to defraud

Obtaining a gain

(1)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person conspires with another person with the intention of dishonestly obtaining a gain from a third person; and

(b)  the third person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 10 years.

(2)  In a prosecution for an offence against subsection (1), it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew that the third person was a Commonwealth entity.

Causing a loss

(3)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person conspires with another person with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to a third person; and

(b)  the third person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 10 years.

(4)  In a prosecution for an offence against subsection (3), it is not necessary to prove that the defendant knew that the third person was a Commonwealth entity.

(5)  A person is guilty of an offence if:

(a)  the person conspires with another person to dishonestly cause a loss, or to dishonestly cause a risk of loss, to a third person; and

(b)  the first-mentioned person knows or believes that the loss will occur or that there is a substantial risk of the loss occurring; and

(c)  the third person is a Commonwealth entity.

Penalty:  Imprisonment for 10 years.

Going to court for a Commonwealth offence?

If you have been accused of a Commonwealth Offence, such as an offence under the Criminal Code Act 1995, call Sydney Criminal Lawyers anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to book a free initial consultation with a lawyer who is vastly experienced in defending Commonwealth cases, and who will be able to accurately advise you about the law, procedure, your options and the best way forward, and fight for the optimal outcome.

Authors

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience as a criminal defence lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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