$10 million worth of real estate found to be owned illegally by foreign investors

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The Federal Government’s crackdown on illegal purchases of real estate by foreign investors has continued, with Treasurer Scott Morrison yesterday ordering the sale of more than $10 million worth of properties.

Seven residential properties located in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will be put up for sale, bringing the number of forced divestments to 19 since the government placed greater emphasis on the issue of illegal foreign purchases in 2013.

The seven properties had purchase prices ranging from $154,000 to $5.2 million, and were bought by investors from China, Hong Kong and Germany.

Under changes made by the government earlier this year, the owners in question will have 12 months to sell the properties, rather than the previous three months and will not face criminal prosecution.

The $5.2 million property was a house in Victoria’s Hawthorn East and is the first forced sale as a result of new powers granted to the Australian Taxation Office to investigate foreign ownership.

“The Hawthorn East property was found to have been bought without government approval following an Australian Taxation Office investigation. The property is the first such house to be detected by the newly established ATO foreign investment task force which has sophisticated data matching capabilities,” Morrison said.

“Other existing residential property purchases had been initially compliant but were subsequently held in breach of the foreign investment rules as a result of changed circumstances, and shall also be divested,” he said

“For instance, where a temporary resident entitled to acquire Australian residential real estate becomes a foreign resident, they shall no longer be entitled to hold Australian property and must divest after their circumstances have changed.”

Morrison said there are likely to be additional forced sales in the near future, with the ATO currently investigating hundreds of sales.

“Since this transfer [of investigative powers to the ATO] in May, over 1,044 matters have been investigated. Through information provided by the public, together with our own enquiries, we now have 532 cases under active investigation.

“I expect more divestments will be announced in the future and once again warn foreign investors in residential real estate that they must comply with Australian law.”

The forced sales comes a week after it was revealed the government’s amnesty period for forieng investors who may be in breach of the law, which ends on 30 November, has resulted in over 100 foreign investors declaring themselves to the ATO.

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