Steve Irwin's zoo subject of Australia tax probe

Thu Apr 3, 2008 9:26am EDT
 
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By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian tax officials are probing the affairs of late "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin and his wife Terri over an offshore scheme involving their Australia Zoo wildlife business, the zoo said on Thursday.

General Manager Frank Muscillo said the zoo, where the khaki-clad Irwin got up close with crocodiles and other wildlife at the 5,000-seat "Crocoseum," had done nothing wrong except fall victim to a "highly sophisticated case of deception."

"This situation has cost us a lot. Not just in monetary terms but in respect of our reputation," Muscillo said in a statement to Reuters, adding that the zoo in tropical Queensland state was fully cooperating with the tax investigation.

Steve Irwin was killed in September 2006 when a stingray barb pierced his heart while he was filming a documentary. His daughter Bindi and American-born wife Terri have vowed to continue his work on conservation and crocodile research.

The scheme, under investigation by the Australian Taxation Office, allowed the Irwin's zoo to claim large tax breaks by paying more than A$600,000 a year ($550,000) in fees to a Singapore-based company, the Australian newspaper said.

Muscillo said the ATO investigation was linked to a A$2.5 million civil lawsuit against Terri Irwin and Australia Zoo which was in turn tied up in tax advice given to the Irwins and their advisers by a disgraced former ATO tax lawyer.

"Clearly we wish we had not dealt with these organizations and people," Muscillo said. "We would certainly never knowingly have become involved or associated ourselves with anything illegal or deceitful," he said.

The zoo is being sued by a collection company over unpaid debts after the Irwins signed off on the tax scheme in 2005, before the television naturalist's death.   Continued...

 
<p>Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin (R) and his wife Terri pose with a tortoise in this undated handout photo from their zoo in Beerwah, north of Brisbane. Australian tax officials are probing the affairs of late "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin and his wife Terri over an offshore scheme involving their Australia Zoo wildlife business, the zoo said on Thursday. REUTERS/Australia Zoo/Handout/Files</p>