Alleged ringleader of $17m ATO fraud syndicate denied bail

The man alleged to be the ringleader of a $17 million tax fraud syndicate will spend the weekend in custody after he was denied bail in a Sydney court after being extradited from Queensland.

George Alex, 49, was arrested in Surfers Paradise on Wednesday and charged with conspiring to defraud the Commonwealth and dealing with proceeds of crime amounting to more than $1 million.

He is alleged to have led a highly complex operation that enlisted financial industry experts and former bankers in its efforts to divert more than $17 million from the ATO to private bank accounts.

Magistrate Robert Williams denied Mr Alex bail at Central Local Court in the Sydney CBD on Friday morning and adjourned the matter to Monday.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Williams described the prosecution case as “strong” as he heard bail applications from four of Mr Alex’s co-accused.

Kevin McHugh, 69, of Bonogin in Queensland was granted bail with $500,000 security, $50,000 of which must be paid on Friday and $450,000 by July 28. He faces one charge of conspiring to defraud and one of dealing with proceeds of crime exceeding $100,000.

His lawyer, Rob Clifford, asked Magistrate Williams to consider that McHugh had “made the effort” to travel to central Sydney to appear in court despite coronavirus warnings.

Adrian Metly, 42, was bailed on $100,000 surety paid by August 3, George Alex’s 22-year-old son Arthur on $100,000 security paid by July 31, and Gordon McAndrew on $200,000 surety.

All four men are also required to adhere to a number of conditions including reporting to police, not going near points of departure from Australia, and not contacting any of their 11 co-accused.

Federal police swooped on 21 locations across NSW, Queensland and the ACT and charged 12 people earlier this week in a “co-ordinated strike” targeting the operation.

Assets totalling $21 million in value – including 12 properties, 17 cars, a caravan, a boat and 65 bank accounts – have been restrained.

Police allege the operation involved using legitimate labour hire firms to outsource payroll administration to dodgy companies that paid wages and superannuation correctly but sent money that should have gone to the ATO off to be laundered instead.

When the tax debt for one of these payroll companies grew too large, the company would be abandoned and a new one formed, police allege.

Other co-accused people include Caitlin Hall, 30, the wife of underworld figure Michael Ibrahim, and Cheryl Rostron, 50. Both women are charged with one count of recklessly dealing with proceeds of crime amounting to more than $1 million.

Ms Rostron’s husband Pasquale “Peter” Loccisano was also arrested, along with New Zealand man Mark Bryers, who is expected to face Parramatta Court for a bail hearing on Saturday.

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