Auckland couple sentenced for repeated tax evasion

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Wellington, January 20, 2021

(Image from IRD Website)

A South Auckland husband and wife, who a Judge said used a repeat pattern of tax evasion and used their children as puppets in their ongoing businesses, have been sentenced to prison and home detention respectively.

Tamanini Muaiava and his wife Uputaua Muaiava were sentenced in the Papakura District Court this week on 65 charges each of evading or attempting to evade the assessment or payment of Goods and Services Tax, and PAYE.

Tamanini Muaiava was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment and Uputaua Muaiava was sentenced to nine months home detention.

Holding to account

Inland Revenue Department Spokesperson Tony Morris said that Tamanini Muaiava has previous tax convictions and that someone who persistently evades their tax obligations in the way Mr Muaiava did, deserves to be held to account.

“Tamanini and Uputaua Muaiava jointly operated businesses supplying labour to agricultural growers in South Auckland. When they were confronted about one company’s failure to pay tax, that company would be wound up and a new company incorporated to continue their trading. On at least three separate occasions they used one of their children as sole Director and shareholder in a company,” he said.

Mr Morris said that the Sentencing Judge noted that the children were enlisted as “mere puppets for the ongoing business.”

Language misunderstanding rejected

“The Judge noted that English is a second language for Mr Muaiava but rejected any claim of misunderstanding about his tax obligations. He said that while Muaiava’s ‘cultural’ obligation to ensure harvesters were paid may provide the context of his offending, it doesn’t excuse it,” Mr Morris said.

He said that various companies kept few records and traded mostly in cash for both income and expenditure and IR has had to reconstruct income from invoice records. The total tax evaded by the Muaiava’s is estimated at $431,644.66.

Offending straight theft

“The offending is straight theft from the community and a gross abuse of trust. It not only involved the deliberate failure to file GST and PAYE returns, but also the careful use of new companies to continue trading in the same business, with the same primary customers and in the same way. That is why the Judge found their offending was premediated, repetitive and deliberate. While the couple are of modest means and have few assets or exhibit a lavish lifestyle their family accepted considerable income from this tax fraud”, Mr Morris said.

Sentencing Notes

In his judgement, Judge Winter accepted that Tamanini Muaiava felt pressure to pay his workers and may have tried to help them on occasions by giving them extra money for their special needs, such as family funerals. However, he did not accept that either he or his family made no financial gain from his tax evasion.

Judge Winter said that there is a clear connection between Tamanini Muaiava’s personal, family, community and Samoan cultural background that explains but cannot excuse his offending. He also accepted the couples now deep sense of shame (Maasiasi) and profound remorse. 

Source: Inland Revenue Department, Wellington

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