A near 30-year veteran of the Australian Defence Force has admitted he dishonestly took almost $45,000 from the Department of Defence before using fake documents to try to justify his actions.
The agreed facts in documents tendered to the court show Tarek Elgayar served in the ADF from 1991 to 2019 and was deployed to East Timor and Afghanistan. He rose to the rank of major in the Army, the rank he held when he committed his crimes.
In January 2017, he started working in Canberra and had to travel about four days each fortnight.
Defence personnel who go on work-related travel are allowed to use a Defence Travel Card (DTC), which can be used to obtain cash or make payments for official purposes.
From December 2017 to August 2018, Elgayar used his DTC to make cash withdrawals, pay for airline tickets, hotels, taxis and private parking fees.
Defence found he made 99 unauthorised transactions worth about $44,000, which he processed as genuine expenditures.
They were not official work-related travel transactions for one of several reasons, including that they were made when Elgayar was on leave, during public holidays or on the weekend, or during the annual Defence stand-down period over Christmas and New Year’s.
Transactions included payments for accommodation that exceeded the amount Defence would have approved, including at the Hilton and Hyatt Hotels, five withdrawals of $900 cash and an airline ticket for his partner.
After the unauthorised payments were discovered in September 2018, Elgayar’s supervisor was told to conduct a review of some cash transactions made in 2018. He asked the major to provide “evidence to support the transactions”.
Elgayar emailed to say he did not have all the receipts but could complete a statutory declaration, and he wanted to give “the assurance that this is above board”.
But on 2 and 3 October 2018, he filled out nine documents that were supposed to calculate the estimated cost of official travel and put in details relating to travel and costs alleged to have occurred in the period being reviewed. He also put his supervisor’s details in the “approval” section.
He printed, signed and backdated the documents before the travel dates listed in the documents before placing them on his supervisor’s desk.
However, the supervisor became suspicious after seeing that the printer near his office had multiple listings on its log to Elgayar that had been made that morning.
Also, each of the nine documents showed the date the forms were printed in the bottom left corner and all read either 2 October or 3 October 2018.
Police interviewed Elgayar in 2020. He admitted he had prepared and printed the documents in October 2018 and had not done so before travelling because he had been busy at work.
“[I] lost track of time to sit down and to actually finalise or seek formalised written approval for travel. My travel was verbally endorsed in most instances by [my supervisor],” he said.
He said while he may not have completed the necessary travel paperwork, his travel was “fully briefed to everyone and they were aware” of his movements in “most instances”.
But he did tell police that during the period in question, he “made some bad decisions”.
“I made that because I was impaired both mentally and – would you say, physically? – under the influence of alcohol,” he said.
He did not admit he committed the allegations put to him but said he would pay back the amount in full.
“Me paying the money back is not an admission of guilt. That is me paying the money back because I want to move on with my life,” he told police.
Police said he repaid almost $120,000 to Defence over the misuse of his DTC.
But Elgayar, aged 47, appearing by phone in the ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday (20 May), pleaded guilty to one count of general dishonesty causing a loss and one count of using forged documents dishonestly.
Ten other charges were withdrawn.
He said he would be “happy to attend in Canberra if need be” for a pre-sentencing report as he was currently in NSW.
Magistrate Beth Campbell adjourned the matter for sentencing to 14 July. Elgayar faces a maximum 10 years in jail.