20 September 2023

ATO alleges Griffith winery lodged fake tax statements for GST refund overpayments of $17 million

| Oliver Jacques
Sans Pareil Estate sign

Sans Pareil Estate went into liquidation in October 2022. Photo: Supplied.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has alleged Griffith winery Sans Pareil Estate lodged fictitious Business Activity Statements (BAS), which resulted in it receiving more than $17 million in GST refund overpayments, according to documents submitted to the NSW Supreme Court.

Region has uncovered new details since it exclusively reported on an upcoming Supreme Court appearance for Hanwood farmer Aaron Salvestrin, who launched Sans Pareil Estate in 2018. Despite being touted as a “rising star of the Riverina wine scene”, his business went into liquidation in October 2022, and Sydney-based insolvency firm Chifley Advisory took over its administration.

READ ALSO Griffith winery Sans Pareil Estate faces liquidation hearing, allegedly owes ATO $32 million

Documents obtained by Region reveal the liquidation is continuing and that Chifley Advisory sought to sell a Mercedes-Benz E63S registered in the name of Aaron’s parents, Dennis and Annette Maree, and a McLaren supercar earlier this year as part of that process.

On Monday (18 September), the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney will hear an application from Chifley Advisory to recover other assets from the winery.

Ahead of this hearing, lawyers for the liquidator submitted a “points of claim” document to the court, which is a summary of facts supporting their case.

This document, obtained by Region, revealed the ATO issued an audit report expressing its view that Sans Pareil Estate lodged fictitious BAS to the ATO and made “inflated and fictitious claims for GST refunds in respect of GST payments”, which it never made between July 2020 and September 2022.

A BAS is a form registered businesses must submit to the ATO reporting on their tax obligations. When lodging a BAS, companies can claim a refund on GST for goods purchased for export overseas because the 10 per cent tax only applies to items consumed within Australia.

Sans Pareil Estate allegedly received GST refund payments of approximately $17,161,679 more than they ought to have received.

As at February 2023, the winery was alleged to owe the ATO a total of $30,799,703, which included penalties and interest.

Aaron Salvestrin has been named as a defendant in the case. Photo: Sans Pareil.

Aaron Salvestrin is named as a defendant in the Supreme Court case, as are his parents, Dennis and Annette Maree. The hearing is in the civil jurisdiction, meaning it relates to property or money and is not a criminal matter.

The points of claims document also provides a list of impugned financial transactions made by the winery, monies that “would have to be repaid to the ATO”.

This includes a bill of $31,895.70 paid to luxury private jet company Navair and $18,000 spent on a universal home theatre.

There are also two vehicle purchases of more than $40,000 and several overseas transactions in countries including Poland and New Zealand.

Mr Salvestrin was just 24 years old when he launched Sans Pareil, a French term meaning “without equal”.

“I grew up on a vineyard and ever since I can remember, I was fascinated by the wine industry,” he told the local Griffith paper in 2020.

“I helped out with harvest from a young age and got a job as a vineyard hand at McWilliam’s [winery] when I was 18.”

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Destination NSW, the state government’s lead tourism agency, praised his “rule-breaking wine” and “untraditional methods” in February 2022.

A total of nine different companies associated with the winery were registered between March 2018 and March 2022, all of which are now in liquidation.

“The liquidation process for the Sans Pareil Estate Group of Companies is continuing,” Henry Kwok of Chifley Advisory told Region.

“As the matter is subjected to court proceedings, we cannot comment on the matter at this stage … due to the complexity of the matters, we are not in a position to provide an estimation of the finalisation date.”

If you know more about this story, contact [email protected].

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