Australia’s financial press is expecting that the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will take a hard stance on cryptocurrency investors this tax season, with the ATO recently vowing to leverage international data-matching agreements in order to track the taxation obligations of Australian cryptocurrency traders.
ATO to Leverage International Data-Matching Agreements to Target Crypto Traders
The Australian Tax Office has announced that it will leverage data sharing agreements made between Australia and other nations to determine the tax obligations of Australian cryptocurrency investors.
“We’re alert to the potential compliance risks that arise from cryptocurrencies but we’re not really alarmed about them,” ATO acting deputy commissioner Martin Jacobs told Australian Financial Review.
“Where people attempt to deliberately avoid these obligations we will attempt to take action. We have a range of existing powers that are designed to address unexplained wealth and conspicuous consumption that may arise through profits derived through cryptocurrency investment,” Mr. Jacobs added.
Mr. Jacobs also emphasized that changes to anti-money laundering rules mandating that Australian crypto exchanges identify wallet holders “will enable data exchanges to collect cryptocurrency trading information, which we’ll be able to access and use in our engagement activities.”
Many Traders May be Unaware of Tax Obligations
Paul Drum of accounting firm CPA Australia has speculated many Australian cryptocurrency users may not be fully aware of their tax obligations, stating “We’re at the pointy end of a financial year of seismic profits and if people were thinking they could fly under the radar, I’ve got bad news. […] People wrongly believe they’re getting a windfall gain that isn’t taxed. That could be a costly mistake.”
Mr. Drum also warned that many cryptocurrency traders are not aware of the tax event triggered by each “disposal” of virtual currency holdings, emphasizing that cryptocurrency-to-cryptocurrency trades require that traders declare any profits generated. “Even if you traded your ripples for bitcoin, you have to figure out whether you made a profit on the trade,” he said.
ATO Criticized Over Opaque Tax Guidance for Cryptocurrency Users
Australian Financial Review recently spoke to Adam Dimac of legal firm Hall and Wilcox, who are currently representing “Max” – an Australian lawyer who is currently in a dispute with the ATO regarding how his $7 million in cryptocurrency holdings should be taxed.
Mr. Dimac emphasized the lack of clarity surrounding the ATO’s regulations, stating “There are a lot of technical issues for which there is just no guidance at all. One example is initial coin offerings. From a tax point of view, there’s basically no guidance on how they are treated. It’s really new ground.”
Max’s lawyers are seeking to argue the personal use exemption. However, Mr. Dimac concedes that the team is “hearing it’s going to be hard to argue the personal use exemption. There are individuals who can genuinely say ‘yeah, I went into this out of intellectual curiosity and as a hobby. I’m a Millennial and this is how I think, I like to challenge the status quo. Five years later, it’s become $10 million.’ But nobody quite knows how the ATO is going to view it because everyone’s circumstances are different. And even then, the ATO is developing their thinking over time as they come to consider different scenarios and new cryptos come into the market.”
Laura Spencer of Sladen Legal also believes that the ATO has failed to provide sufficient guidance regarding the tax obligations of cryptocurrency investors, stating that “The insufficient guidelines and absence of case law in this area of tax leaves early adopters of cryptocurrencies in great uncertainty. As the treatment of cryptocurrencies will play an even greater role in the future, we await further comments from the commissioner.”
What is your response to the ATO’s decision to leverage international data-sharing agreements to target crypto investors? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
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