Australian officials probe 'Crocodile Dundee' star Hogan's tangled finances

Complex trail of accounts from Chile to the Caribbean uncovered in wide-ranging Crime Commission investigation

This time, however, the actor Paul Hogan, a former rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge who made good, is starring in a real-life drama, as the larrikin adventurer has become embroiled in a tax avoidance investigation - a long way from when "Hoges", as he is known in Australia, became a national mascot.

His 1986 film Crocodile Dundee, which he made with his business partner John "Strop" Cornell, became an international hit and took $350m (£190m). In those heady days the former prime minister, Bob Hawke, declared on a trip to the US that he was from "Crocodile Dundee country".

The star and his homeland capitalised on the rugged individualist who was an emblem of every suburban Aussie's outback fantasies. But times change: despite Mr Hogan's iconic "throw another shrimp on the barbie" advertisements, which were credited with doubling the number of American tourists Down Under in four years, he has become a remote figure in his own land. Nor is the investigation giving him the kind of publicity he would like.

It is claimed that millions of pounds of royalties were paid over by 20th Century Fox, the Hollywood studio, to an array of tax structures stretching from Chile to the Antilles. Mr Hogan and his family, it is said, drew funds from automatic teller machines using cards issued by banks in the tax havens. According to reports, the secretive Australian Crime Commission, which has controversial coercive examination powers, wants to question the actor about the arrangements and look into his bank statements, credit cards and computer records.

A spokesman refused to comment, but the commission's website reveals relevant details of Australia's largest investigation into offshore money laundering and tax fraud, suggesting Mr Hogan may not be alone in the inquiry.

"Subsequent intelligence and information led to the establishment of Operation Wickenby, which has identified numerous promoters and participants, including a number of prominent Australians, who are utilising offshore services to avoid tax liabilities," it says.

While Mr Hogan has not commented on the reports, a source, quoted as speaking on his behalf, said any failure to pay tax was a result of ignorance rather than dishonesty. He said the investigation was most likely examining the role of Mr Hogan's tax advisers and not the star himself, and that the advisers might not have understood Australia's complex tax laws.

The commission is investigating links between Mr Hogan and two brothers, Philip and Richard Egglishaw, who work for Strachans, a Swiss firm of tax haven specialists which is understood to be the main focus of Operation Wickenby. It is alleged that a large proportion of Mr Hogan's royalties ended up offshore in tax havens administered by Strachans, and that the labyrinthine structures included secret trusts that did not appear to disclose the ultimate controller or beneficiary.

In the wake of the success of the first Crocodile Dundee, Mr Hogan divorced his wife of 30 years, Noelene, and married his American co-star, Linda Kozlowski. He keeps a lavish mansion in the hip Australian beachside retreat of Byron Bay, but spends long periods in Los Angeles. His later films, which included two more episodes in the Crocodile Dundee franchise, proved much less popular at the box office, although the recent small Australian film Strange Bedfellows, in which he pretends to be gay to take advantage of tax laws, proved a local hit.

For his own part, Mr Hogan has always claimed to be unambitious - a "lazy bugger", in his own words. But he has also been known for his business acumen and enjoyment of success.

"I'm not the little Aussie battler anymore," he said in 1996. "If I can have a Rolls-Royce, I'll have a Rolls-Royce. That's the whole point of it."

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