“I was motivated by a desire to always have more: more success, more respect, more wealth…”

This was the explanation given by Plutus Payroll founder and chief executive officer Simon Anquetil in a letter of apology to the presiding judge in his 2020 sentencing hearing for tax fraud.

Anquetil was one of the architects of a sophisticated scheme that ran from 2014 to 2017 and defrauded the Commonwealth of more than $165 million. Anquetil pocketed around $12 million. In mid-2020 he was sentenced to more than seven years jail time.

It appears, according to a 2017 AFR article, that Anquetil had engaged in phoenix activity and alleged fraud at his previous employer, EStrategy Group, which left the company owing American Express and ATO more than $200,000. [Phoenix activity is where a new company is created to continue the business of an existing company that has been deliberately liquidated to avoid paying its debts.] Four months before EStrategy Group was wound up, EStrategy Operations was established. This was in 2013. Anquetil then went on to set up Plutus in 2014 where the much more sophisticated and longer running fraud took place.

What a great teaching moment for companies everywhere! This is the perfect example of how employment screening is not only critical to ensure they are hiring staff who are honest and trustworthy. It is also a valuable due diligence tool when appointing partners and third-party providers to avoid situations that will bankrupt their business financially and leave employees with no job and limited future prospects. As an employer, you would think very hard about hiring a former employee of a company that committed that level of fraud and was then outed in such a spectacularly public manner, even though the employee may be innocent of any wrongdoing.

Had the Commonwealth undertaken background screening on the founders and executive of Plutus Payroll before appointing them as a provider of financial services to the Australian people, they may have uncovered information that would have raised red flags and possibly saved the ‘collective financial injury’ suffered by Australians (and Plutus Payroll’s innocent employees – I’m sure there were some), as the AFR so eloquently put it.

The Australian people could really use the lost millions right now as we recover from drought, bushfires and floods and emerge from a deadly and economically catastrophic pandemic, but that’s another story for another day.

What this case also demonstrates is that employment fraud is not always clear-cut. In this case, it was not an employee with a sketchy history who had purposely lied on their resume to get the job that brought the company down. It was the founder himself (along with his General Manager and other co-conspirators) whose only motivation was greed. Employees of the company and, presumably, the Australian people, were collateral damage.

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