3 May 2024

Department of Finance conspirator avoids jail over 'thoroughly dishonest scheme'

| Albert McKnight
Gopalakrishnan Suryanarayanan Vilayur

Gopalakrishnan Suryanarayanan Vilayur, now aged 54, leaves the ACT Courts on a previous occasion. Photo: Albert McKnight.

The third man who attempted to defraud the Department of Finance by subtly infecting its processes was also spared jail, like his co-conspirators, when he was sentenced.

Gopalakrishnan Suryanarayanan Vilayur pleaded guilty to conspiring with two other men to dishonestly obtain a gain from the Commonwealth between March 2019 and June 2020.

The ACT Supreme Court sentenced his two co-offenders, Abdul ‘Alex’ Aziz El-Debel and Raminder Singh Kahlon, to intensive corrections orders (ICO) in late 2022.

Vilayur was originally scheduled to face a trial, but ultimately pleaded guilty before it was set to start. This was able to be reported once non-publication orders put in place over the case were lifted at his sentencing hearing earlier this week.

“People can be tired and rushed and under pressure, but wasn’t this obviously a thoroughly dishonest scheme of insider dealings and kickbacks?” Justice David Mossop asked at the hearing.

The trio’s conspiracy related to organising contractors from the companies of Vilayur and Kahlon, Algoram and New Horizons respectively, to be selected for positions in the Department of Finance.

Successful subcontractors would usually be remunerated by payment from the department to the company which would deduct a margin – essentially a commission – before passing the balance onto them.

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Their conspiracy was designed to “subtly infect” the processes at the department, Justice Mossop said when handing down Vilayur’s sentence on Thursday (2 May).

El-Debel, who held a senior position in the Department of Finance, procured IT personnel and advised evaluation panels making recommendations on candidates. Meanwhile, the labor hire companies of Vilayur and Kahlon provided contractors to the department.

The conspirators agreed El-Debel would provide the other two with information about procurement and encourage panel members to make recommendations for candidates from New Horizons and Algoram.

Vilayur would also organise for his candidates to have advanced knowledge to provide them an advantage over others.

A portion of what the two companies obtained would then be paid to El-Debel.

Raminder Singh Kahlon and Abdul "Alex" Aziz El-Debel

Raminder Singh Kahlon (left) and Abdul “Alex” Aziz El-Debel leave court at the start of their trial in 2022. Photos: Albert McKnight.

The three men were arrested in June 2020. Justice Mossop said their profits were largely not realised, but the total gain Vilayur and Kahlon expected to receive in the 12 months to December 2020 was $1.6 million to be shared equally.

He said the conspiracy had the potential to “reap financial benefits” for the trio, involved a significant breach of trust, took place over 14 months, was motivated by “greed rather than need” and involved a degree of sophistication to manipulate the outcomes of the recruitment process.

Justice Mossop said the $1.6 million would have been a very significant gain if police hadn’t interrupted the plan.

Born in India, Vilayur came to Australia in 2005. He is married and has two children.

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The court heard the 54-year-old had not acknowledged responsibility for his actions and “justified and minimised his offence”. In a letter Vilayur wrote, he referred to how there “may have been lapses in my execution”.

“There was no true recognition that what he had done was wrong,” Justice Mossop said.

“The dishonesty of this scheme would have been apparent to anyone.”

He said Vilayur’s conduct appeared to be an “aberration” and he thought he was unlikely to reoffend.

Justice Mossop said if El-Debel and Kahlon hadn’t been handed ICOs, community-based sentences, he would have considered full-time jail was appropriate for Vilayur.

He noted prosecutors had not appealed against the “very lenient” sentences given to the co-offenders and said parity required Vilayur not be sent to prison.

Vilayur was convicted and sentenced to a 40-month ICO with 300 hours of community service.

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