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Auckland tax fraudster gets 32 months’ jail

A company director whose labour hire business supplied workers for major Auckland transport projects has been sentenced to nearly three years’ jail for tax evasion.

Ronald Teheretiu Message, also known as Ronnie Message, was sentenced in Manukau District Court yesterday to 32 months’ prison on charges relating to more than $2 million in tax evasion. His company A Message Services Limited provided labourers for the Waterview Tunnel and Victoria Park Tunnel motorway projects.

Patrick Goggin, Inland Revenue’s Group Manager Investigations and Advice, said Message was an experienced businessman and would definitely have known his obligations as an employer to pay income tax, GST and PAYE deductions to Inland Revenue.

“Mr Message had a successful business operation working on multi-million dollar infrastructure projects,” Mr Goggin said. “To flout these most basic of employer obligations is completely unacceptable. This sentence should send a clear signal that tax cheaters will be caught and punished.”

During the period from November 2011 to March 2015, Message’s company filed 39 monthly GST returns. Of these, 11 claimed refunds the company wasn’t entitled to while the remainder were zero returns. On all occasions, the returns should’ve resulted in a position of GST to pay.

When questioned about the 11 refund returns by Inland Revenue investigators, Message said he simply made up the figures to arrive at a refund position. In total the company evaded paying $877,471 in GST.

Over a two-year period, the company also failed to pass on nearly $500,000 in withholding tax deducted from income paid to contractors it employed.

Message didn’t file personal income tax returns for three years either, despite repeated requests to do so, resulting in just over $700,000 in tax being evaded.

His only defence when questioned was that he had a gambling addiction and that is how he spent the company’s money.