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Beauty queen used as unwitting bait by alleged tax scammers

It was a meet and greet with a glamorous former Miss World contestant as unwitting bait.

The upmarket event at the Hilton Hotel was to lure clients to a payroll company now at the centre of one of the biggest white collar fraud investigations in Australian history.

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Nine charged over $165m ATO fraud

One of those to be charged is the son of the Australian Taxation Office Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston, who will appear in court.

It was February 2015 and St Aloysius' College old boy Simon Anquetil was offering guests the chance to "join me for a selfie" with the "stunning" Erin Holland, who took out the Miss World Australia title in 2013.

The then 31-year-old businessman was one of the brains behind Plutus Payroll, a company touted as "Australia's First Zero-Fee Payroll Service".

Guests at the glitzy event were told they could "earn money simply by switching to a free payroll service".

Mr Anquetil, 34, has now been named as one of seven alleged co-conspirators behind a $165 million tax fraud syndicate involving Plutus Payroll, the company he once chaired. The alleged scam started in June 2016, according to court documents.

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But it is another high-profile member of the alleged syndicate whose family connections have made him the face of Operation Elbrus, the eight-month Australian Federal Police investigation into the alleged racket.

Adam Cranston, one of the alleged masterminds of the scam, is the big-spending son of ATO Deputy Commissioner Michael Cranston.

The 30-year-old was granted bail on Thursday after being charged with conspiring to cause loss.

His younger sister Lauren, 24, was also charged over the scheme.

Allegedly working alongside the Cranston siblings was Jason "Jay" Onley, a Scots College old boy and former Nine Network sports commentator who lists one of his career highlights as calling the Olympic gold medal-winning performance of Australian snowboarder Torah Bright in 2010.

The Sydney-based Plutus Payroll was contracted by businesses to manage their employees' wages and salaries, including making PAYG contributions to the Tax Office.

But the AFP alleges the company was skimming off a percentage of the funds that should have been paid to the ATO.

The proceeds were allegedly used by members of the syndicate to fund their lavish lifestyles, including luxury cars, 18 residential properties, two aircraft, $1 million from a safe deposit box, firearms, jewellery, bottles of Grange wine and artworks.

It now appears a bitter falling-out between the participants may have brought the scheme undone.

Adding to the drama is the alleged involvement of veteran Sydney journalist Steve Barrett, a former 60 Minutes producer, in an attempt to blackmail the syndicate along with a disaffected member of the group, Daniel Rostankovski.

Mr Rostankovski allegedly demanded $5 million or Mr Barrett would expose the group in the media. Mr Barrett has not been charged with any offence.

Colourful Sydney property developer and former publican Daniel Hausman has been charged alongside Rostankovski with blackmail offences.

Only hours before he was murdered in 2009, loan shark Michael McGurk met with Mr Hausman in the Lord Dudley hotel in Woollahra to talk about a Kings Cross hotel deal.

The alleged blackmail attempt is said to have taken place at a meeting at the Martin Place offices of Clamenz Lawyers on February 1.

One of the partners of the firm, 33-year-old Dev Menon, allegedly gave advice about how the scheme should be managed and was charged on Thursday as one of the seven key players.

As part of their bail conditions, those charged were ordered not to associate or contact a group of people including Sevag Chalabian.

Mr Chalabian, a former partner at Phillips Fox, gave evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he aided the family of now jailed former minister Eddie Obeid to create an elaborate series of trusts and front companies to disguise a $60 million payment.