The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) Operation Spicer investigation has exposed prohibited donations, fund channelling and non-disclosures in the NSW Liberal Party’s 2011 state election campaign.
The Commission’s report, Investigation into NSW Liberal Party electoral funding for the 2011 state election campaign and other matters, was made public today. The ICAC’s findings include that Raymond Carter, Andrew Cornwell, Garry Edwards, the Hon Michael Gallacher MLC, Nabil Gazal Jnr, Nicholas Gazal, Hilton Grugeon, Christopher Hartcher, Timothy Koelma, Jeffrey McCloy, Timothy Owen, Christopher Spence, Hugh Thomson and Darren Williams acted with the intention of evading laws under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 (the election funding laws) relating to the disclosure of political donations and the ban on donations from property developers.
Messrs Grugeon, Hartcher, Koelma, McCloy, Owen, Thomson and Williams were also found to have acted with the intention of evading the election funding laws relating to caps on political donations. The Commission also found that Craig Baumann, Nicholas Di Girolamo, Troy Palmer and Darren Webber acted with the intention of evading the election funding laws relating to the disclosure of political donations and that Bart Bassett knowingly solicited a political donation from a property developer.
The ICAC found that during November and December 2010 the Free Enterprise Foundation was used to channel donations to the NSW Liberal Party for its 2011 state election campaign so that the identity of the true donors was disguised. A substantial portion of the $693,000 provided by the foundation and used by the NSW Liberal Party in the campaign originated from donors who were property developers and, therefore, prohibited donors under the election funding laws.
Undisclosed political donations were also channelled through a business, Eightbyfive, to benefit Liberal Party 2011 state election campaigns on the Central Coast. These donations included donations from property developers and donations in excess of the applicable caps on donations.
The ICAC also found that there were payments made by property developers, who were prohibited donors, to help fund NSW Liberal Party candidates’ campaigns in the Hunter. The true nature of these payments was disguised, for example, as consultancy services or funnelled through another company with the intention of evading the election funding laws.
The above are findings of fact, not findings of corrupt conduct. As explained in the Foreword to the report, the ICAC cannot make corrupt conduct findings in cases of failure to comply with the requirements of the election funding laws where, although those failures could have affected the exercise of official functions of the then Election Funding Authority of NSW, officers of that authority were not involved in any wrongdoing.
The ICAC makes a finding of serious corrupt conduct against Joseph Tripodi for, sometime prior to 16 February 2011, misusing his position as a member of Parliament to improperly provide an advantage to Buildev by providing to Darren Williams of that company a copy of the confidential 4 February 2011 NSW Treasury report, Review of Proposed Uses of Mayfield and Intertrade Lands at Newcastle Port.
The Commission’s report notes that at the relevant time proceedings for an offence under the election funding laws had to be commenced within three years from the time the offence was committed. As the Operation Spicer public inquiry did not conclude until September 2014, and the matters canvassed in the report occurred mostly from 2009 to 2011, a prosecution for relevant offences is now statute barred.
The ICAC is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with respect to the prosecution of Samantha Brookes, Andrew Cornwell, Timothy Gunasinghe, Timothy Koelma and William Saddington for offences under section 87 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 of giving false or misleading evidence to the Commission. The ICAC is also of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP with respect to the prosecution of Christopher Hartcher for an offence of larceny and Mr Tripodi for the common law offence of misconduct in public office.
Preparation of the report was principally delayed by litigation, legislative changes and the need to ensure that parties were afforded procedural fairness.