Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts
Showing posts with label corruption. Show all posts

Monday, 4 June 2018

Peter Chapman's stint as editor of The Queensland Times is catching up with him

Peter Chapman first swam into public view as a Channel 10 sports editor, commentator and presenter in the late 1980s.

He left after ten years to work for Canberra Raiders NRL Club and the New Zealand Breakers basketball team.

He re-entered journalism in 2006 and stayed with APN News and Media for ten and a half years as editor first of The Daily Examiner, then the Fraser Coast Chronicle and finally The Queensland Times.

He quietly slipped out of journalism again in November 2016 when he went to work for Leda Holdings, a property development and investment company, as its Marketing and Media Manager. Presumably the new owner of APN's regional newspapers, News Corp, or Peter himself thought they would not be a good match.

Unfortunately for Peter his abrasive style as an editor meant that his journalistic 'sins' rarely go unnoticed and, on 28 May 2018 ABC TV "Media Watch" program finally featured his time covering Ipswich politics in QueenslandWith the program's presenter discussing the latest revelations of corruption in Queensland, and how a huge local story mysteriously went missing in the media.

As the Clarence Valley, home to The Daily Examiner, was never enamoured with his divisive, sometimes biased reporting, locals were quick to point out that "Media Watch" was doing a third segment on Peter.

Who could forget the first two, Peter as the the leaker in 1999 or as the sporting chauvanist in 2009

These are some of the program snapshots that were sent to me with the comment - "It was classic Chapman"!

How a journalist working with him at the time assesed the situation.

On Wednesday 2 May 2018 the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) charged Ipswich Mayor Antoniolli, former mayor Paul Pisasale, two council CEOs and eight other council staff with sixty-six charges of corruption.

Peter Chapman is probably still wiping the egg off his face.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Liberals continue to behave badly in 2018 – Part Six, Cash subpoena for 1 August

The Guardian: Michaelia Cash giving evidence before Senate educaion & employment committee, Parlview video, Feb 2018

The Age, 30 May 2018:

The Federal Court has ordered embattled Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash to give evidence in the court case over last year's raids on the headquarters of the Australian Workers Union.

Court documents seen by Fairfax Media show a subpoena has been issued for Senator Cash to attend court on August 1.

The minister has been under pressure over her role in a federal police raid conducted on AWU offices in Melbourne in October, details of which were leaked to the media in advance.

Senator Cash's former staffer David de Garis - who has also been ordered to give evidence - took the blame for tipping off journalists and subsequently resigned.

Senator Cash has said she was unaware of the tip-offs. She was due to appear at a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday but sent the assistant minister Zed Seselja instead….

She previously failed in an attempt to stop subpoenas for communications between her office and the ROC about the raids….

Mr Turnbull has so far stood by his minister.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The people attracted to a career in Tzar Peter’s federal super ministry.....

Brisbane Times, 16 May 2018:

The information chief at Peter Dutton’s new Home Affairs super ministry allegedly ordered the deletion of a government record relevant to a request under freedom of information laws when he was a senior executive at NSW’s transport agency.

Tim Catley, who began his high-ranking role at Home Affairs in February, is accused of directing staff at Transport for NSW to delete government information in 2016, in witness statements given during an investigation by the state’s Information and Privacy Commission.

Mr Catley vehemently denies he asked anyone to delete government records. “The allegation that I asked anyone to delete an email is not true and it is not technologically possible to do that anyway [at the transport agency]. Professionally and ethically I wouldn’t do anything like that,” he told the Herald.

Following a referral from the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the state’s Information Commission launched an investigation behind closed doors into the deletion of a record at Transport for NSW to avoid public disclosure 18 months ago.

During that investigation, the Information Commission was told of a culture inside Transport for NSW of suppressing bad news, meaning that higher levels within the department were not told of potential cost blowouts on projects.

The investigation also heard that warnings about this culture of suppression were relayed to the then secretary of the department, Tim Reardon, now NSW’s top public servant as head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

A preliminary report on the Information Commission’s investigation, seen by the Herald, found that a Transport for NSW executive issued directions to delete government information relevant to a request under the Government Information (Public Access) Act (GIPA), the state’s freedom of information legislation.

“The investigation has found that the executive directed the deletion of records that were germane to a GIPA access application and that staff acted on that direction,” the report, by Information and Privacy commissioner Elizabeth Tydd, said.

Ms Tydd’s report did not name Mr Catley as the executive who directed the deletion. But the witness statements to the commission assert that it was Mr Catley who gave the direction.

Despite her finding about the direction, Ms Tydd determined there were no grounds to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Attorney-General….

According to Ms Tydd’s analysis, if the official who destroys the information is unaware the information is subject to a freedom-of-information request, the person who directed them to delete that information did not commit an offence.

And because other staff at Transport for NSW later ensured the deleted document was retrieved, the commissioner found the government agency had not failed in its duty.

According to evidence given during the investigation, Mr Catley raised concerns at a meeting in July 2016 about emails that detailed a cost blowout in the $425 million “Next Generation Infrastructure Services” project. An application for information about the IT project sought under the GIPA Act was also discussed at the meeting.

That same month, Mr Catley allegedly directed a more junior staff member to delete an email about the exit from Transport for NSW of a manager who had a senior role overseeing the IT project, according to witness statements given to the Information Commission.
At the time, Mr Catley had responsibility for technology at Transport for NSW as its chief information officer, a role he had held since 2012.
Early this year, a “confidential” report by a consulting firm commissioned by Transport for NSW revealed a concerning picture of the state of IT at the state’s transport agencies.......

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Quotes of the Week

“Meeting the narrow test of legality is not a licence to be a bastard”  [Journalist Peter Hartcher writing  about corporations in The Canberra Times, 5 May 2018]

“budget's forecasts and projections, prepared by that well-known Italian economist, Rosie Scenario”  [Economics editor Ross Gittens writing in The Sydney Morning Herald about Federal Budget 2018-19, 8 May 2018]

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Quotes of the Week

“He’s nothing but a pre-Fitzgerald corruption inquiry Queensland walloper”  [An anonymous Liberal MP speaking of Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton, quoted in The Saturday Paper by journalist Paul Bongiorno, 21 April 2018]

“The Liberals complaining that ASIC is sleep is rich considering who administered the fucking anaesthetic.”  [Journalist Richard Chirgwin, Twitter, 23 April 2018]

“At the same time, returns to the AEC show that these same corporations paid a total of $21,733,192 in political donations to political parties with Westpac standing out with donations totalling of nearly $12 million during the 2014-15 financial year alone.“  [Campaigner Rosie Williams, in “What can open data tell us about Australia’s major banks?”, 20 April 2018]

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

As the federal govenment burns are Turnbull and Co. just tinkering at the edges of banking and finance regulations or are they seriously committed to reform?

Way back in October 2016 the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) began an Enforcement Review which examined the adequacy of legislation dealing with corporations, financial services, credit and insurance, with regard to serious contraventions in the financial sector, including fraud and criminal activity.

0n 18 December 2017 ASIC handed its Enforcement Review Report to the Turnbull Government.

It was probably no accident that four days earlier the same government ceased its sustained opposition to a highest level inquiry and created the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. 

With the extent of bank money laundering becoming an issue and the review report on its doorstep there was nowhere else to turn, given the average voter would not have been receptive to the argument that the big banks were historically a protected species because of their generous political donations.

In April 2018 in the midst Royal Commission revelations concerning a host of bank and financial system abuses the Turnbull Government finally released its response to the ASIC review report.

This response "agrees" with or gives "in principle agreement" to all 50 recommendations but has placed 20 recommendations on the backburner.

Knowing that ASIC’s investigative abilities has been crippled by funding/staff cuts, that entities with annual profits in the billions just seem to shrug off large corporate fines, often indemnify executives in relation to individual fines and are able to play the legal system so that executives rarely see the inside of a prison, on 20 April the Turnbull Government via the Minister for Revenue and Financial Services revealed that by legislative amendments it will implement the potential for larger individual and corporate fines and double potential maximum prison sentences:

The Turnbull Government is strengthening criminal and civil penalties for corporate misconduct and boosting the powers of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to protect Australian consumers from corporate and financial misconduct.

These stronger new penalties will ensure that those who do the wrong thing will receive appropriate punishment.

These reforms represent the most significant increases to the maximum civil penalties, in some instances, in more than twenty years. They bring Australia's penalties into closer alignment with leading international jurisdictions, and ensure our penalties are a credible deterrent to unacceptable misconduct.

The Government will increase and harmonise penalties for the most serious criminal offences under the Corporations Act to a maximum of:

For individuals: (i) 10 years' imprisonment; and/or (ii) the larger of $945,000 OR three times the benefits;

For corporations: (i) the larger of $9.45 million OR (ii) three times benefits OR 10% of annual turnover.

The Government will expand the range of contraventions subject to civil penalties, and also increase the maximum civil penalty amounts that can be imposed by courts, to the maximum of:

the greater of $1.05 million (for individuals, from $200,000) and $10.5 million (for corporations, from $1 million); or

three times the benefit gained or loss avoided; or

10% of the annual turnover (for corporations).

In addition, ASIC will be able to seek additional remedies to strip wrongdoers of profits illegally obtained, or losses avoided from contraventions resulting in civil penalty proceedings.

ASIC's powers will also be significantly increased through:

expanding their ability to ban individuals from performing any role in a financial services company where they are found to be unfit, improper, or incompetent;

strengthening their power to refuse, revoke or cancel financial services and credit licences where the licensee is not fit or proper; and

boosting ASIC's tools to investigate and prosecute serious offences by harmonising their search warrant powers to provide them with greater flexibility to use seized materials, and granting ASIC access to telecommunications intercept material.

The Turnbull Government is committed to ensuring ASIC is armed with greater powers to effectively deter, prosecute, and punish those who do the wrong thing, to improve community confidence and outcomes for consumers and investors in the financial services and corporate sector.

These reforms come on top of strong Government action to reform our financial services sector to better protect Australian consumers over a number of years.
The Government has already provided $127 million in additional funding to ASIC to bolster its investigative and surveillance capabilities; implemented an industry funding model for ASIC to give it secure funding; appointed a new chairman for ASIC, Mr James Shipton, and announced a new second Deputy Commissioner with an enforcement focus, Mr Daniel Crennan QC; established a new standards setting body for financial advisers; and established a new one stop shop for consumer complaints which is free for consumers, binding on financial institutions and can order compensation where appropriate.

Today's reforms to ASIC's powers and penalties follow recommendations made by the ASIC Enforcement Review Taskforce (The Taskforce). The Taskforce was established in October 2016 to fulfil the Government's commitment to review the adequacy of ASIC's enforcement regime in response to the Murray Financial System Inquiry, and provided its report to Government in December 2017.

The Government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all 50 of the Taskforce recommendations and will prioritise the implementation of 30 of the recommendations.

The remaining 20 recommendations relate to self-reporting of breaches, industry codes and ASIC's directions powers, which will be considered alongside the final report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry.

The Government thanks all the members of the Taskforce, including the Panel of Experts, Treasury, ASIC, Attorney-General's Department, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as all stakeholders who participated in the consultation of the various position papers put forward by the Taskforce.

The Government's full response to the Taskforce Report can be found on the Treasury website.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Turnbull Government will ignore this call to extend Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry at its own electoral peril

Remember When Australian Prime Minister and former merchant banker Malcolm Bligh Turnbull ruled out a bankig royal commission?

Telling the nation; "I can tell you wehave as a government decided not to have a royal commission, we made thedecision a long time ago, not because we don't believe there is nothing goingon in terms of problems with the banks, it is because we want to take actionright now and we are".

Recall the time and other limits placed on the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry when it was finally established on 14 December 2017? Giving it the power to ignore anything that it wanted to that would otherwise be within its scope. 

Well things did not go entirely to plan for Malcolm and his banker mates.

Because since13 March 2018 the curtain has been drawn back revealing the systemic unethical, deceitful, rapacious, sometimes fraudulent and, in certain instances criminal behaviour, of the financial sector.

National Australia Bank, Westpac, St George, Citibank, ANZ, AMP Insurance and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, along with their financial services spin-offs, had all come under some degree of scrutiny by mid-April with more hearings still sheduled.

So it comes as no surprise that Fairfax Media is now saying what many are thinking.............

The Age, 18 November 2018:

Evidence to the fledgling financial services royal commission confirms the inquiry, long-resisted by the Coalition government and the banks, was justified and suggests it will lead to rigorous reforms. It also suggests the government’s decision to limit the probe to one year should be reviewed.

A damning admission by a top executive of what was once one of the nation’s most trusted institutions, AMP, about his company repeatedly lying to the corporate regulator about condoned client fraud intensifies concerns about one of the most crucial industries.

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry is only in its third week, but there has been a plethora of testimony to unethical and/or illegal practices including: charging clients for wilfully undelivered services; fraud; manipulating ‘‘independent’’ audit information; selling clients irrelevant insurance and financial products (many of them in-house); failing to declare commissions; refusing to honour insurance contracts; rigging interest rate markets; and failing to make proper checks before granting loans.

The banks long argued the malfeasance was the result of ‘‘a few bad apples’’, a position that became untenable as bountiful evidence, much of it revealed by The Age, implicated the companies’ very culture.....

Thursday, 19 April 2018

None of the financial institutions are coming away from this Royal Commission covered in glory

The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry was established on 14 December 2017, is due to hand down an interim report no later than 30 September 2018 followed by a final report by 1 February 2019.

As of 13 April 2018 the royal commission has received 3,433 public submissions - 69% of these were Banking, 8% Superannuation 8% and 7% Financial Advice.

Round 2 public hearings finish on 27 April 2018.

View the live webcast or previous hearings.

Yesterday was the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's turn to reluctantly admit systemic fraud ....

The Guardian18 April 2018:

Counsel assisting the royal commission, Mark Costello, asked Linda Elkins, from CBA’s wealth management arm Colonial First State, to confirm CBA’s poor record of charging fees for no service.

“It would be the gold medallist if [the corporate regulator] was handing out medals for fees for no service, wouldn’t it?” Costello asked.

Elkins replied: “Yes.”

The commission was told that from July 2007 to June 2015 clients of CBA’s Commonwealth Financial Planning, BW Financial Planning and Count Financial businesses were routinely charged ongoing fees for financial advice where no advice services were provided.

CBA has had to refund $118.5m to customers – more than half the $219m in compensation paid by the big four banks and AMP over the past decade – to more than 310,000 financial advice customers.

ABC News, 18 April 2018:

Michael Hodge QC observes that Commonwealth Financial Planning has had a 100 per cent increase in clients over the past decade but a 25 per cent drop in the number of advisers.

He asks CBA's Marianne Perkovic whether the bank had any concerns that clients were not receiving adequate attention because of the decline in advisers, while client numbers doubled.

This is in the context of ASIC's concern that some firms were taking on too many clients for the number of planners. 

Ms Perkovic struggles to provide a clear answer.......

After disputing the meaning to be attributed to internal memos between the bank's senior managers in early 2012, Ms Perkovic eventually had to admit that a Deloitte report handed to CBA in July 2012 revealed systemic problems in ensuring that customers weren't being charged for financial advice they did not receive.

Deloitte had found that at least $700,000 in ongoing service fees were being charged to more than 1,050 clients that were allocated to more than 50 inactive financial planners who had left the business before 2012.

It appears that Ms Perkovic was finally ground down by relentless questioning from Michael Hodge QC, warnings from Commissioner Kenneth Hayne and the irrefutable evidence of the Deloitte report.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Alleged irrigator water theft heading for the courts?

A cousin by marriage of the current Australian Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud, John Norman, finds his agricultural business practices under scrutiny.....

The Guardian, 9 April 2018:

Fraud charges are expected to be laid against one of Queensland’s biggest cotton irrigators, John Norman, within a matter of weeks.

If the trial of the owner-operator of Norman Farming, and former cotton farmer of the year goes ahead, it is likely to draw attention to the links between the irrigator’s family and that of the federal minister for agriculture and water resources, David Littleproud.

If the charges are laid, they will also throw the spotlight on the Queensland government’s failure in administering a key plank of the $13bn Murray-Darling basin plan, how it withheld critical information about the alleged crimes, and how it raises queries as to whether it lied about its own investigation.

For the past 18 months, an expanding team of undercover detectives, cybercrime experts and forensic accountants have been investigating Norman’s business on the Queensland/New South Wales border, an irrigated cotton aggregate stretching 45km north from the McIntyre river.

The investigation has focused on whether Norman Farming misused upwards of $25m in Murray-Darling basin infrastructure funds that were supposed to make the irrigator more efficient and deliver water back to the ailing river system downstream.
The plan for the basin is funded by the commonwealth and administered by state governments. But allegations that the $150m Healthy Headwaters Water Use Efficiency projects in Queensland, part of the MDB plan, lacked any genuinely independent checks on projects, means it may have been left open to corruption.

“It’s been a loosey-goosey slush fund helping irrigators get richer,” according to Chris Lamey, a dry-land farmer who’s seeking compensation from Norman, his neighbour. “It’s achieved the opposite of what was intended. There’s a lot of water not getting into NSW now and it’s backed up in dams next door to me.”

Queensland’s covert police investigation into Norman Farming went public in October 2017, when dozens of major crime squad detectives holding multiple subpoenas fanned out from Goondiwindi in early-morning high-speed convoys, heading across the floodplain to the irrigator’s properties and several of its contractors in and around the border river town…..

Monday, 9 April 2018

Trump called out for untrue personal attack

Fox News pointed out in polite terms that US President Donald J. Trump is telling wall-to-wall lies in his personal attack on the founder of Amazon (an American electronic commerce and cloud computing corporation) and owner of The Washingtom Post, multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos.

It also linked this attack to newspaper's reporting of the the DOJ-FBI investigation into alleged links between the the Trump presidential campaign and Russia's interferrence in the 2016 US national elections.

Perhaps Trump should cast his mind back to the last American president that tried to silence The Washington Post - in that case for it's reporting of the Watergate political scandal.

He might also care to recall that Bezos (the world's 'richest' man in 2018) only holds est. 16 per cent of Amazon shares - there are another 2,447 shareholders of record and est. 60.53 per cent of the share pool is owned by institutional investors, who as representatives of a host of beneficial shareholders won't be happy with Trump's crude attempt to force Amazon share value down. 

Sunday, 1 April 2018

UNITED LAND COUNCILS IN THE NEWS AGAIN: Nicholas Petroulias appears before NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption and represents himself at hearings

*This post will be updated whenever additional information becomes available*

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began a public inquiry on 27 March 2018. 

ICAC’s media release of 7 March 2018 stated in part:

“….as part of an investigation it is conducting into allegations concerning the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) (Operation Skyline).

The Commission is investigating whether any public official, being a Awabakal LALC Board director, acted dishonestly and/or in breach of their duty as a Board member in relation to a scheme involving proposals from 2014 to 2016 for the sale and development of properties (“the Sale and Development Scheme”) owned by the land council.

The Commission is also investigating whether any Awabakal LALC Board director acted dishonestly and/or in breach of their duty as a Board member in purporting to retain, or retaining, Knightsbridge North Lawyers or anyone else to act for the land council in respect of the Sale and Development Scheme.

Further, the ICAC is investigating whether any Awabakal LALC Board director: acted dishonestly and/or in breach of their duty as a Board member by participating in, or aiding or assisting any person in relation to, the Sale and Development Scheme including dealings with Sunshine Property Investment Group Pty Ltd, Sunshine Warners Pty Ltd, Solstice Property Corporation Pty Ltd and Advantage Property Experts Syndications Pty Ltd and/or Advantage Property Syndications Ltd; and whether they received any financial or other benefits as a reward or payment for their involvement in, or for their assistance or services rendered in relation to, the Sale and Development Scheme or any connected matter.

The Commission is also examining whether any person or persons encouraged or induced any Awabakal LALC Board director to dishonestly or partially exercise any of their official functions in respect of the Sale and Development Scheme and any other land council property, or otherwise engaged in conduct connected with corrupt conduct within the meaning of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.

The public inquiry will start at 10:00 am and will be held in the Commission's hearing room on Level 7, 255 Elizabeth Street, Sydney. Chief Commissioner the Hon Peter Hall QC will preside at the public inquiry, and Counsel Assisting the Commission will be Dr Nicholas Chen SC and Ms Juliet Curtin.

The inquiry is set down for approximately three weeks. A witness list for at least the first week of the proceedings will be published on the ICAC website prior to the commencement of the public inquiry.”

Transcripts of Operation Skyline public hearings can be found here.



Tuesday 27 March 
Terrence Henry Lawler - government appointed Administrator of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Wednesday 28 March 
Terrence Henry Lawler government appointed Administrator of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Omar Bin Abdullah building design consultant & sole director/shareholder Alamco Pty Ltd (currently under external administration) 
Steven Mark Slee - former CEO Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, former director 
Awabakal Cooperative and Yarnteen College
Cyril Philemon Gabey - one of three directors at The Indigenous Business Union Pty Ltd (IBU) (deregistered 15/01/2017)

Thursday 29 March
John Terry Hancock - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council Eleanor Swan - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council
Deborah June Swan - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, sister to Elanor
Bernard Michael "Mick' Walsh - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council 


Tuesday 3 April
Eleanor W Swan - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council
Deborah June Swan former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council 
Larry Warren Slee - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, father of Steven Mark Slee

Wednesday 4 April
Matthew Fisk - employee of Tony Zong first at Sunshine Property Investment Group and later at Luxeland Group
Tony Zong (Shuxin Zong) - sole director and shareholder of Sunshine Property Investment Group Pty Limited, a commercial fitout & building company
Diane "Dan Dan" Ren - property developer, co-director and co-shareholder of Luxeland Group Pty Ltd with Tony Zong *not questioned on the day*

Thursday 5 April
Tony Zong (Shuxin Zong) - sole director and shareholder of Sunshine Property Investment Group Pty Limited, a commercial fitout & building company
Nicole Steadman - former interim chair of Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council *not questioned on the day*

Friday 6 April
Tony Zong (Shuxin Zong) - sole director and shareholder of Sunshine Property Investment Group Pty Limited, a commercial fitout & building company
Larry Warren Slee - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, father of Steven Mark Slee
Ronald Wayne Jordan - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, employed by family business
Candy Towers - member Awabakal community, former employee Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council *not questioned on the day*


Monday 9 April
Larry Warren Slee - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, father of Steven Mark Slee
Leonard James Quinlan - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council
Dr. Raymond Kelly - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council

Tuesday 10 April
Dr. Raymond Kelly - former board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council
Ronald Wayne Jordanformer board member Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, employed by family business
Clayton Hickey - accountant with PKF Lawler *not questioned on the day*
Ian Sheriff - solicitor *not questioned on the day*

Wednesday 11 April
Keith Kang Rhee - co-director and one of two shareholders in of Keeju Pty Ltd a family sushi business
Sammy Sayed aka Sam Say - said to be in real estate/properties

Thursday 12 April
Sammy Sayed aka Sam Say - said to be in real estate/properties
Ian Sheriff - solicitor
Diane "Dan Dan" Ren - property developer, co-director and co-shareholder of Luxeland Group Pty Ltd with Tony Zong

Friday 13 April
Nicole Steadman - former interim chair of Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council 
Candy Towers - member Awabakal community, former employee Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council

The Sydney Morning Herald report on Day One of the hearings, 27 March 2018:

Disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias has resurfaced at the centre of a corruption probe into a series of deals to sell off up to $30 million worth of Aboriginal land in the NSW Hunter region.

Mr Petroulias was one of the country's most senior public servants before his high-profile jailing in 2008 for corrupt conduct and unauthorised publication of Commonwealth documents.

The first day of public inquiry by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) has heard that Mr Petroulias played a "central role" in three deals - and one attempted deal - to sell off land belonging to the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

In one of the more extraordinary allegations, Mr Petroulias was accused of signing a 2014 deal on behalf of a company director who was already dead at the time he was appointed.

The deals took place between 2014 and 2016, with the most lucrative worth $30 million, the inquiry heard.

In his opening address, counsel assisting Nicholas Chen SC alleged that Mr Petroulias used a "two dollar company" he controlled - known as Gows Heat - to obtain purchase rights over several parcels of Awabakal land.

"Mr Petroulias at that time had recently been made a bankrupt," Mr Chen told the inquiry. "Neither Gows Heat nor Mr Petroulias paid any money to the land council to secure this 'right'."

It was alleged Mr Petroulias on-sold the purchase rights to a new buyer and then attempted to on-sell the rights again to another buyer, while both remained unaware of the other's existence.

"Gows Heat and Mr Petroulias secured a significant windfall: he sold this "right", around six months later, and received around $1.1 million as a result," Mr Chen said.

Whether Awabakal's board was aware of these deals - and how the deals could go ahead without disclosure to the board - will be investigated by the inquiry.

The inquiry will also examine the actions of two former Awabakal board members involved in the transactions - Richard Green and Debbie Dates - and a lawyer who executed the deals on the land council's behalf.

That solicitor, Despina Bakis, was the sole director of Sydney firm Knightsbridge North Lawyers. Mr Chen noted that she had been in what could be described as an "on-again, off-again" relationship with Mr Petroulias for about 20 years.

Mr Chen noted that neither Ms Bakis or Mr Petroulias were Indigenous and Ms Bakis had "no relevant experience" in undertaking the kind of work she was tasked to do by the land council.

The inquiry heard Mr Petroulias has adopted a string of aliases, including Nick or Nicholas Piers; Nick or Nicholas Pearson and Nick or Nicholas Petersen.

A number of corporate entities with links to Mr Petroulias had been created using the identities of people that knew nothing of their involvement, Mr Chen alleged.

The Newcastle Herald reporting on Day One, 28 March 2018:

The land council's administrator, Terry Lawler, took to the witness box on Tuesday afternoon, testifying that he found no copies of any agreements to sell Awabakal land when he was installed by the state government in 2016. 

Mr Petroulias, representing himself, grilled Mr Lawler over what he told Awabakal members before they voted on one of the land deals.

"Did you mention that I was a criminal to the membership of the meeting?," he asked. 

Mr Lawler responded that a solicitor acting for him may have, but added “fact’s facts”. 

When he put the issue to a vote, there was a "sea of hands" against the proposal, Mr Lawler said. 

“One of the members actually said: ‘are you a comedian?’,” he recalled. 

Mr Lawler told the inquiry that when he was first made aware of the deal, involving a company called Advantage Property Experts Syndications, he “didn’t have any information” about whether it was a good or bad deal.

However he was stunned at proposals relating to the post office. 

“The thing that did really strike me, and I remember thinking ‘this bloke’s delusional’, is that he said to me ‘part and parcel of this is we're going to do up the post office and hand it back to the NSW state government so as they’ll provide us with a strategic state development approval for the development of Hillsborough Road,” Mr Lawler told the inquiry.  

“I found that an interesting statement, because that's just not the way things work.” 
Mr Lawler also noticed a number of typos within the agreement. 

“To be frank some of the agreements I found extremely difficult to read, understand, there were differing parties … one party on the cover sheet another party in the agreement, there were references to agreements even then that I hadn’t seen,” he said.  

Mr Lawler claimed he has since been the target of abusive, defamatory and inaccurate letters and a “slanderous” social media campaign. 

He alleged a businessman associated with Advantage and two other people stood outside a recent Awabakal meeting, handing out flyers making similar allegations.

“My local residential area was letter-boxed with those flyers that same evening and it’s clear from the Facebook post from Advantage that I’m being stalked,” he said. 

“There are quite a lot of photos that are nothing other than me just going about my business.” 

Mr Lawler has reported the matters to police....

 Mr Chen described Ms Bakis’ appointment as “more than a little curious”, given that the land council had been making use of a “highly experienced” commercial and property lawyer. 

He further alleged that Ms Bakis was appointed by Mr Green without the board’s authority until a motion to ratify her appointment more than a year later. 

It’s understood that Ms Bakis will argue that she was always given to understand her appointment was authorised. 

Mr Lawler told the hearing that when he was installed he did not find any records relating to Ms Bakis’ appointment and when he asked for them, it triggered a “flow” of abusive material. 

“Abuse, complaints, accusations and being told that she’s not my secretary and that I’m a thief, it just goes on,” he said. 

“I have never experienced – let alone from a professional person – I’ve never experienced the style in which Ms Bakis writes … clearly [she was] an angry little ant.” 

The Newcastle Herald reporting on Day Two, 28 March 2018:

 A corruption inquiry has been told board minutes of the Awabakal land council appear to have been falsified to show it voted in favour of selling land to a company tied to disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias. 

It came as a Sydney developer told the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) he did not understand how a reference to the same company – Gows Heat Pty Ltd – ended up in documentation he prepared on the development of the land…. 

Mr Petroulias was a “common feature” in all of the deals and Gows Heat a shelf company he controlled, it has been alleged.  

In the witness box on Wednesday was Omar Abdullah, a building designer and new home specialist based in Sydney. 

He made an overture to the land council in late 2014, after he was informed by a business contact it had property ripe for development. 

Mr Abdullah told the inquiry he was given an opportunity to meet with Awabakal’s board and present it with discussion material on potential developments. 

He felt the presentation was met with a “positive reaction”, but Mr Abdullah did not pursue a deal when he got “nothing formal back” from the board.

The inquiry previously heard a “critical matter” will be an allegation from Mr Petroulias that the presentation was made jointly with Gows Heat. 

When asked if he had ever heard of Gows, Mr Abdullah replied “absolutely not”. 

Mr Abdullah was then shown a document that appeared to be identical to the one he circulated during the presentation, but included a reference to Gows Heat. 

“I’ve never seen this document,” he said. 

The land council’s chief executive at the time, Steven Slee, was questioned over his recollection events. 

Mr Slee told the inquiry the board resolved to contact Mr Abdullah to pursue the land proposal, a resolution reflected in typed and signed minutes and a “running list” of resolutions kept at the land council’s offices.  

Council assisting Nicholas Chen SC tendered those documents as evidence, before presenting Mr Slee with an additional book containing handwritten minutes. 

Mr Slee agreed it appeared someone had written extra words around the resolution. 
He was unable to decipher what they said, but observed they started with the letters “Go”. 

Mr Slee was then shown a different resolution that appeared to have been stapled into the minute book, recording a decision to push ahead with the sale of the land to Gows Heat. 

“Mr Slee, whilst you were CEO was it the practice of the board to staple resolutions into minute books?” Mr Chen asked. 

“No,” Mr Slee responded, agreeing it appeared someone had tampered with the minutes. He was unable to pinpoint who it might be. 

The Newcastle Herald reporting on  Day Five, 5 April 2018:

As an experienced property developer and qualified valuer based in Sydney, Matthew Fisk knew his way around a land deal.

But as he bargained with the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council over land it owned at Warners Bay, there were aspects of the negotiations that struck him as strange.

One of the more “unusual” elements, Mr Fisk told an Independent Commission against Corruption inquiry, was the role of disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias and an instance where Mr Petroulias allegedly “scribbled out” a figure in a contract….

Mr Zong later took – and dropped – legal action against the land council, claiming he was not informed the deal did not have proper authorisation.

Mr Zong’s involvement began in 2015, when he attended a meeting at Warners Bay McDonalds over a potential land deal. 

Mr Fisk told the inquiry he accompanied Mr Zong to the meeting, also attended by Mr Green and Mr Petroulias.

The parties were allegedly brought together by a former inmate who served time with Mr Petroulias at Silverwater jail – Sammy Say  – who was acquainted with a contact of Mr Zong. 

Mr Fisk recalled one of the third parties introducing Mr Petroulias as a lawyer acting for the land council. 

So he was surprised – at the end of a tour – when he was informed that Mr Petroulias had a “larger interest”.

“I believe it was Sammy Say that had used words to the effect that Nick has already put the deal together,” Mr Fisk recalled. “Then Nick proceeded with he already has an option to acquire these five parcels of land and it would be, in fact, us … acquiring Nick’s option moving forward.” 

An option is where a potential buyer pays a vendor for the right to purchase their property at a fixed price at a later time. The vendor can not sell the property to a third party in that period. 

Council assisting Nicholas Chen asked Mr Fisk if he thought it unusual that the land council’s lawyer would have an option over its land. 

“I thought it was quite unusual, particularly that when I asked what the purchase price was I was told that it was to be subject to valuation,” Mr Fisk said. 

According to Mr Fisk, another odd twist came as a contract was being signed with the amount to be paid out to Gows Heat. 

“After Mr Zong had signed the document Mr Petroulias then lent over, scribbled out $250,000, wrote $673,000 and then initialled it,” Mr Fisk said. 

“Tony [Zong] said, look, he said to Nick, ‘what are you doing?’ I don’t recall the response that was given but I found it very unusual.” 

North Coast Voices’ readers might recall that Nick Petroulias (using the name Nicholas Peterson) and Richard Green gave sworn evidence before the NSW Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 6 INQUIRY INTO CROWN LAND, as part of United Land Councils' lobbying for the potentially environmentally destructive Yamba Mega Port proposal.

Before Operation Skyline’s public hearing began, one of those named in the inquiry began short-lived and unsuccessful proceedings in Knightsbridge North Lawyers Pty Limited v Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The matter of the proposed Awabakal land sales was also before the NSW Supreme Court in 2017….

The Newcastle Herald, 21 October 2017:

The matter is the subject of a Supreme Court legal battle that veteran lawyers have described as one of the most extraordinary cases they have seen in their careers.

Labelled by a lawyer familiar with the case as a real-life version of “Alice in Wonderland”, its cast of characters includes an international fugitive known as Robbie Rocket, a convicted drug dealer and a dead company director who somehow continued signing agreements a year after he was cremated in a Sydney cemetery.

The existence of an international money laundering syndicate and a karaoke junket intended as a bribery attempt are among the other sensational allegations contained within thousands of pages of evidence that have been tendered to the court.

Last year in an unrelated matter Mr. Petroulias was the defendant in Director of Public Prosecutions (Cth) v Petroulias [2017] NSWSC 1290 (28 September 2017), excerpts:

When this matter came on for hearing before me there was no appearance on behalf of the defendant. The defendant now goes by the name Michael Felson. For abundant caution both of his names were called outside court three times….

During the hearing I was informed that the defendant is an undischarged bankrupt. He was declared bankrupt by a sequestration order made by the Federal Circuit Court on 23 October 2014. His statement of affairs was filed on 10 March 2015. He will thus be eligible to be discharged from bankruptcy on 10 March 2018.