Former Australian Tax Office deputy commissioner Michael Cranston says he was "just doing my job" after he was exonerated of misusing his senior position in the public service to pass information on to his entrepreneur son.
After nearly three weeks on trial before NSW District Court judge Robyn Tupman, a jury took two days to find the 40-year ATO veteran not guilty of dishonestly obtaining information in his capacity as a senior public servant to benefit Adam Cranston, as well as a charge of using his influence to improperly obtain a benefit for his son.
Mr Cranston, who has links with the Sutherland Shire, said outside court on Friday that he was "absolutely shocked" when he was charged.
‘‘I just know looking at what I did, I was just doing my job, passing on a matter. I declared my conflict about my son and that’s what I do everyday," he said.
I’m just so happy that the justice system prevailed.Michael Cranston
Mr Cranston said he didn't think it was possible to return to work at the ATO, and was instead looking at doing consultancy work.
"First I’m going to have a beer with my friends. I think that’s going to be really important today," he said.
After the verdict was read out, an emotional Mr Cranston stepped down from the dock and hugged his supporters.
Speaking to media outside court, Mr Cranston said he always knew he hadn't done anything wrong.
"I don’t know if you’ve ever had to go through this, especially when you know you’re innocent," Mr Cranston said.
"I’m just so happy that the justice system prevailed."
The Crown alleged Mr Cranston had a conflict of interest in following up two requests from Adam Cranston in the first half of 2017.
The court heard Adam Cranston asked his father to look into the nature of any audits the ATO was conducting against Simon Anquetil, a man financially linked to Plutus Payroll with whom Adam had a business relationship.
The jury heard Michael Cranston asked assistant commissioner Scott Burrows to access restricted computer records about Mr Anquetil and report back to him.
In a taped phone call in early 2017, Mr Cranston told his son the data he was seeking was in a "protected area" usually associated with organised crime.
His barrister, David Staehli, SC, said his client was "trying to push him [Adam Cranston] away from the potential for being involved with the wrong kind of people".
During the telephone conversation with his son, Mr Cranston said he'd told Mr Burrows that his son had bought into a business and was worried he was "getting into bed with a lying somebody".
Mr Cranston told the court that he'd mentioned "organised crime" because he wanted him to "risk-assess his situation" with his associates.
"In my own way I was just trying to tell him I couldn't take the matter any further," Mr Cranston said.
Outside court on Friday, Mr Cranston said the telephone intercepts used in evidence against him had produced nothing damning.
“There was nothing there showing I had done anything wrong," Mr Cranston said.
The trial heard that Adam Cranston had also asked his father to help him find the appropriate person in the Tax Office for Mr Anquetil to contact about lifting orders that were in place withholding his access to money.
Adam Cranston had shown Mr Cranston an ATO letter sent to Mr Anquetil and told him his associate's money had been derived from the sale of shares, the court heard.
In response, Mr Cranston said he believed the law had been incorrectly applied.
Crown prosecutor Peter Neil, SC, said Mr Cranston had "allowed himself to be improperly influenced in the matter simply because Adam wanted to know himself what was going on between the ATO and Anquetil".
The second charge related to Mr Cranston contacting another subordinate, Tony Poulakis, following a request from Adam Cranston to arrange a meeting between Plutus Payroll and the ATO after orders were obtained freezing the payroll firm’s bank accounts and preventing subcontractors from being paid.
Mr Staehli said Mr Cranston told Mr Poulakis the Plutus Payroll matter was urgent because "people are going to the bloody press" over the accounts being frozen.
Mr Staehli said part of Mr Cranston's responsibilities were to "make sure that the Tax Office didn't get this kind of publicity when it ... was seen to have abused its powers".
Mr Poulakis said he knew Mr Cranston to be "particularly sensitive to bad publicity".
"I found nothing strange," he said.
- This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald