When PwC Australia CEO Tom Seymour stepped down in May after it was confirmed he’d received tainted emails containing confidential government tax intel leaked by former partner Peter Collins, it seems the firm hoped sacrificing him was enough to settle the matter and move on. Spoiler: it was not.
While us Yanks were picking up hot dog buns and fireworks in preparation for the 4th, PwC Australia was pushing out a press release to announce eight partners connected to the tax scandal were on their way out (on top of the four already gone). The news release said the firm “has reached conclusions in its investigation into the handling of confidential Treasury information and past failures in professional, ethical or leadership responsibilities.”
“Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of actions that PwC Australia has taken over the past several weeks to take accountability, reshape the firm’s culture, and most importantly, re-earn trust with its stakeholders,” it said. On the PwC site, “has taken” is bolded and links an earlier PwC press release: PwC Australia appoints new CEO Kevin Burrowes; intent to divest Government Business to Allegro Funds. See our take on that here: PwC Sold Off Its Scandal-Plagued Government Consulting Business For 67 Cents
Eight partners have exited or are in the process of being removed from the partnership as a result of the internal investigation’s findings, said PwC. It’s a nice twist on the “we investigated ourselves and found no wrongdoing” trope, in this adaptation wrongdoing was found but somehow limited to only a handful of partners who are now sludgy meat piles splattered across the pavement underneath the bus.
In response to PwC’s announcement, Australian Financial Review columnist Neil Chenoweth points out how strange it is that no one at PwC was actually running this show:
According to PwC, not only was no one directing it, the tax leaks actually ran themselves – look, no hands! A sort of immaculate misconception, with no guide rail and almost no tax partners.
Perhaps most surprising, Monday’s list of defenestrated partners includes only two people in the tax practice – Eddy Moussa (tax controversy) and Richard Gregg (R&D) – because “their actions failed to meet their professional responsibilities”. Peter Konidaris is the only other partner in this direct category, and he’s in infrastructure! Talk about swimming outside your lane.
PwC also lists four partners who have already left the firm including Collins, but remarkably, while this was a scheme that targeted international tech companies, PwC says it didn’t involve much in the way of international tax partners or transfer pricing specialists.
Right, let’s go back to PwC’s groveling admission:
The investigation identified a number of specific examples where professional standards were breached with respect to misuse of confidential information or other matters reviewed by the ATO. Furthermore, the investigation identified a failure of leadership and governance to adequately address the matters, either at the time or whilst the matters were under investigation by the TPB or ATO. This enabled poor behaviours to persist with no accountability. These behaviours are not, and never have been, acceptable under PwC’s standards.
Consequently, Peter Konidaris and Eddy Moussa have exited the PwC partnership because their actions failed to meet their professional responsibilities. For similar reasons, Richard Gregg has been given notice of PwC Australia’s findings against him and a process has started under the Partnership Agreement to remove him from the partnership.
Additionally, Pete Calleja and Sean Gregory have exited the PwC partnership as a result of their failure to adequately exercise their expected leadership or governance responsibilities to prevent these actions or to address the deficiencies in culture at the firm or hold others accountable for their behaviours. For similar reasons, Peter van Dongen, Wayne Plummer and Tom Seymour have been given notice of PwC Australia’s findings against them and the same process started under the Partnership Agreement to remove them from the partnership. Tom Seymour’s recommended exit is earlier than his previously announced retirement date.
These departures are in addition to the four former partners: Michael Bersten, Peter Collins, Neil Fuller, and Paul McNab, who were previously named as being involved in confidentiality breaches.
Because their titles are not included in PwC’s press release, we’ll snag them from LinkedIn and wherever else we can find them. For posterity, natch.
Peter Konidaris – National Government, Health, Infrastructure & Defence Leader
Eddy Moussa – Eddy’s just says Tax Partner, hilariously the description says he’s on PwC’s “tax controversy and dispute resolution team, providing legal advice to clients on tax matters and supporting clients in disputes with the Australian Taxation Office.”
Richard Gregg – No LinkedIn for him, R&D Tax Incentive
Pete Calleja – Partner in PwC Australia’s Financial Advisory business
Sean Gregory – Partner, responsible for strategy and reputation; including brand, government and regulatory affairs, mainstream and digital media, risk and legal affairs. Let’s add this part from his LinkedIn, too: With experience in the private and government sectors, Sean provides advisory services in PwC’s Deals unit, including financial due diligence; vendor due diligence; vendor assistant; bid support or defence; capital markets; delivering deal value; and, M&A tax services.
Peter van Dongen (great name) – Immediate Past Chairman, Board of Partners. Says his description, “Peter is the immediate past Chairman of PwC Australia’s Board of Partners, remains a Board Member and leads the firm’s national Non-Executive Director Program, Many Hats. His role is to help Australian Boards and NEDs navigate the complex issues they face, connect them to relevant networks and insights, and together – help shape a more prosperous Australia.”
Wayne Plummer – Corporate Tax at PwC. You knew this guy was going to get thrown to the wolves: “Wayne is an Australian Corporate Tax Partner and advises a range of multinational companies in relation to their Australian tax affairs.”
Not included in the newest list: Tom Seymour. We know who he is and what he did.
The next guys were already named and shamed prior to Monday’s press release. Not included: Peter Collins, this is all his fault.
Michael Bersten – Lawyer and ex-Tax partner pictured below. ATO is the Australian Tax Office.
Neil Fuller – Again, no LinkedIn for him. The Klaxon piece linked above shows a contact card listing his division as International Tax and Transaction Services.
Paul McNab – Left PwC for DLA Piper in 2020.
“Accountability is critical to improving our culture and based on our investigation to date, it is clear that the conduct of a number of partners fell short of what was expected of them,” said acting CEO Kristin Stubbins who has been apologizing for this thing for months. “They are now being held accountable for their misconduct. While we cannot change the past, we can control our actions today and in the future. Moving forward, the PwC Australia management team will continue to take all appropriate steps to improve the firm’s culture and standards,” she or whoever writes her quotes for press releases said.
“PwC Australia’s investigation to date has been extensive and whilst further work in some areas remains ongoing, these conclusions are an important milestone,” read the press release. “The firm is fully committed to working cooperatively with all relevant regulatory bodies.”
The leak was referred to Australian federal police for criminal investigation in May. PwC might need a bigger broom and an even bigger rug to get this swept under.