Accused money launderer Tom Karas is facing bankruptcy after being slugged with a $64 million tax bill, which is believed to be one of the largest personal debts ever owed to the Australian Tax Office.
Linked to some of Melbourne’s most notorious underworld figures, Mr Karas owes a staggering $43 million in interest in penalties alone after fighting tax authorities for more than four years over claims his wealth is based on the proceeds of crime.
Documents obtained by The Sunday Age reveal Mr Karas has made only a modest repayment of $3404 – in the form of a tax credit automatically applied by the ATO – against the bill to date. His family owns a string of valuable residential and commercial properties in the inner suburbs.
The ATO has apparently tired of waiting for Mr Karas to pay and have filed bankruptcy proceedings against him in the Federal Court.
Mr Karas, who runs a loan sharking operation from a CBD office that he shares with his business partner, convicted drug dealer Shane Charter, is also under pressure from members of Melbourne’s underworld who are unhappy with his business tactics and confrontational attitude.
The Sunday Age understands Mr Karas was hospitalised earlier this year after a dispute in the street with convicted standover man and debt collector Ramzi Nassar.
Sources say an argument erupted after Mr Karas allegedly refused to repay money owed to Mr Nassar that had been borrowed by an inner suburbs estate agent and invested in Mr Karas’ money lending business.
Mr Nassar has more than a dozen convictions for violence, drugs, handling stolen goods and weapons offences. But he has denied the dispute was related to money.
“Tom was crossing the street, tripped and broke his ankle. I was laughing at him so Tom got angry and pushed me. I pushed him back. That was the end of it,” he said.
Other sources say that Mr Karas has upset some underworld figures by refusing to heed advice to deal fairly with their associates and keep his name out of the public limelight.
Mr Karas’ links to the underworld and lengthy battle with tax office have drawn substantial amount of attention from the media and law enforcement authorities.
In 2011, the ATO won a Supreme Court judgement against Mr Karas that ordered him to pay $21 million in taxes on unexplained income and assets, some of which were allegedly derived from business dealings with the Mokbel family drug empire, known colloquially as “The Company”.
Mr Karas, who was named by the Purana anti-gangland taskforce as a “primary person of interest” in Melbourne’s organised crime scene, was also accused of laundering millions of dollars through the stolen identity of his cousin Christos Karaglanis, a seasonal olive picker and taxi driver in Greece.
The ATO levied $26 million in interest and penalties on the tax bill in 2011, which was increased to $43 million in 2015 after Mr Karas repeatedly refused to pay the debt while fighting attempts by the tax office to freeze and seize his assets.
The bankruptcy proceedings against Mr Karas come as the ATO is already waging a battle to have his wife, Irene Meletsis, declared bankrupt over $2.8 million in tax and penalties she allegedly also owes on unexplained income.
The tax office recently won an order against Ms Meletsis freezing her property assets after The Sunday Agerevealed last year that she had been secretly transferring them to family members.
Mr Karas did not respond to a request for comment.
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