29 June 2022

Department of Finance contractor process allegedly corrupted by two accused, trial told

| Albert McKnight
Two men leaving court

(From left) Raminder Singh Kahlon and his barrister Matthew Kalyk, and Abdul “Alex” Aziz El-Debel leave court on Tuesday. Photos: Albert McKnight.

A group of men allegedly tried to get contractors into the Department of Finance to obtain money for themselves, jurors heard as the trial against two of the accused began to close.

Abdul “Alex” Aziz El-Debel, 49, and Raminder Singh Kahlon, 38, have been charged with conspiring with each other and a third man to dishonestly obtain a gain from the Commonwealth between March 2019 and June 2020.

When the trial began at the start of June 2022, the then-15 jurors heard the two had pleaded not guilty and that the third man was not part of these current proceedings.

The Crown closed its case against the pair three weeks later on Tuesday (28 June). Their defence team offered no more evidence so parties moved into the closing submissions for the trial.

“Conspiracy is an agreement to do something illegal,” Crown Prosecutor David Staehli SC told the now-12 jurors.

“That agreement, the conspiracy, does not have to be something that is written down.”

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He said that two companies, separately linked to Mr Kahlon and the third man, had received work orders from the department to obtain contractors to carry out computing jobs.

He said the three men did not try to install their “dingbats” into the department, but contractors with the requisite specialist qualifications.

The court heard there was a difficult work environment, people were under pressure to finish projects, there were staffing issues and the recruitment process was necessary.

Mr Staehli said the Crown’s case was that “the opportunity was taken in those circumstances”; that an opportunity to create a gain arose from how the department paid contractors substantial amounts of money.

For example, many contractors were paid over $200,000, while one asked for $3100 a day.

Mr Staehli said the person who advocated for a contractor could either put them forward directly or through sub-contractors and the intervening company had the opportunity to take a margin or “cut”.

Even if the margins were small, he said, they added up.

Jurors listened to eight days of telephone intercepts during the trial, with the court also having been told that out of about 60,000 intercepts collected on Mr El-Debel, only 60 were included in the brief of evidence.

The intercepts involved English, Hindi and Punjabi languages and required translated transcripts.

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Mr Staehli alleged one call showed Mr El-Debel was “all about his margin” and claimed the conversation was about how he was to get a margin by the recruitment of contractors put forward by the companies linked to Mr Kahlon and the third man.

It had already been suggested that the name of Mr Kahlon’s company, Algoram, was made up of letters from each of the three men’s first names.

Mr Staheli said the name was either a “clear thing”, a “stupid thing” or “a joke”. He argued the odds of those three syllables from each of their names ending up in the company’s name accidentally was “astronomical”.

He claimed “the only thing which makes sense” is it was deliberate, which allegedly showed the three men were involved in a business that supplied contractors to the department.

He said the proximity of public servant Mr El-Debel, who worked in the Department of Finance, to the other two men was a powerful feature of the alleged agreement.

Mr Staheli said an essential part of the Crown case was whether or not Mr El-Debel was to receive payments from the third man’s company and whether there was evidence he had actually been paid.

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He alleged Mr El-Debel drove to Sydney in 2019 to collect a payment.

Mr Staehli said jurors had to decide whether or not the three men shared in the proceeds of what the Department of Finance paid for successful applications for contractors supplied by them.

Also, they had to decide if money had flowed from contractors to the companies linked to Mr Kahlon and the third man in a process that “had been corrupted” by the actions of the two accused.

The trial continues before Justice Michael Elkaim.

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