New Zealand Law Society - Tribunal finds Quentin Duff guilty of misconduct for his attempts to assist a client to avoid paying GST

Tribunal finds Quentin Duff guilty of misconduct for his attempts to assist a client to avoid paying GST

The Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal has made a finding that Auckland lawyer Quentin Duff was at the relevant time not a fit and proper person or was otherwise unsuited to engage in practice as a lawyer due to his attempts to evade paying tax.

Mr Duff faced one charge of misconduct in relation to assisting a person to evade tax.  

In 2016, Mr Duff wrote to a prospective client of his property development company that a job could be completed for $150,000 as a “cashie”.  

The client paid $150,000 and Mr Duff wrongly coded the payment as “Owner A Funds Introduced” (a non GST ledger code) and failed to account for the GST that should have been paid on it. When the company later paid expenses, it claimed GST inputs.  

On the same date the funds were paid, Mr Duff transferred $15,000 to his own personal bank account and coded it as a business expense, namely “Travel-International”, which was incorrect.  

Later, some of the funds were used to pay for Mr Duff’s personal credit card bill of $9,000.  

In respect of all of these expenses, as well as other expenses properly attributable to the job, a GST rebate was claimed. Therefore the company had the benefit, in terms of its cash-flow, of GST refunds on a non-GST liable “sale”.  

Eventually, the $150,000 was properly coded, but only in January 2021, well after these charges had been laid.  

Mr Duff maintained that in his instance he used the word “cashie” to mean simply a job where there would be no profit for the company, that is, charged at cost.  

He also argued that he would need to request further funds to cover the GST portion of the $150,000 even though that was inconsistent with the communications trail.  

The Tribunal rejected the arguments of Mr Duff and found the charge proven. In doing so it relied on the following factors: 

  1. Mr Duff is an experienced businessman, having held directorships in roughly 15 companies. He has been GST registered since at least 2000.
  2. Mr Duff has previously had difficulties in meeting taxation requirements to Inland Revenue (IRD). Two of his companies have been liquidated by IRD for the non-payment of tax. The Tribunal stated that it “would have expected a practitioner with such a chequered history in relation to the IRD, particularly when the failure to declare that history (the company liquidations) had been the subject of a previous disciplinary findings against him, to have been punctilious in his handling of tax matters overall, and in his manner of discussing them”.
  3. “Mr Duff appears to have exhibited a cavalier approach to the management of the cash flow for Mr P’s job”. He transferred $15,000 to his personal account shortly after receiving the $150,000, which is inconsistent with the argument that the job was purely at cost.
  4.  It was almost 5 years before the GST payable was paid and that only happened after the SC investigation.
  5. The deliberate miscoding of the funds in his Xero account. 

The Tribunal made a finding that Mr Duff’s conduct met the higher threshold of justifying a finding that he (at the relevant time) “is not a fit and proper person or is otherwise unsuited to engage in practice as a lawyer”.