Auckland couple sentenced for using children as 'puppets' to avoid paying tax

Auckland couple sentenced for using children as 'puppets' to avoid paying tax
Photo credit: Getty

An Auckland couple who repeatedly used their children as "puppets" to avoid paying more than $400,000 in tax has been sentenced to prison and home detention.

Tamanini Muaiava and his wife Uputaua Muaiava appeared in Papakura District Court this week on 65 charges each which were all related to tax evasion.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Inland Revenue spokesman Tony Morris said the couple had jointly owned several businesses in South Auckland which supplied labour to agricultural growers. The companies kept few records of their expenditures and traded mostly in cash. 

Inland Revenue had to reconstruct income from invoice records and found the couple had evaded paying an estimated $431,644.66 in tax.

"When they were confronted about one company’s failure to pay tax, that company would be wound up and a new company incorporated to continue their trading," Morris said.

"On at least three separate occasions they used one of their children as sole director and shareholder in a company. The sentencing judge noted the children were 'enlisted as mere puppets for the ongoing business'."

Morris said Tamanini had previous tax convictions and someone who repeatedly evaded their obligations deserved to be held accountable.

During the sentencing, Judge Winter noted that English is a second language for Tamanini but rejected the claim that he didn't understand his tax obligations.

Judge Winter said that Tamanini's background also explained the offending, but did not excuse it. He also accepted that the couple said they feel shame and remorse for their actions. 

Morris called the offending is "straight theft from the community and a gross abuse of trust".

“The offending not only involved the deliberate failure to file GST and PAYE returns, but also the careful use of new companies to continue trading in the same business, with the same primary customers and in the same way.

“It’s why the judge found their offending was premeditated, repetitive and deliberate. While the couple is of modest means and have few assets or exhibit a lavish lifestyle their family accepted considerable income from this tax fraud."

Tamanini was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment and Uputaua was sentenced to nine months home detention.