1 March 2023

Department of Finance executives encouraged conduct in alleged fraud conspiracy, barrister claims

| Albert McKnight
Man outside court with face digitally blurred

The man, who currently can’t be named, pictured outside court on the day of the application. Photo: Albert McKnight.

It is alleged that high-level government officials encouraged and approved the actions of a man accused of conspiring to defraud the Department of Finance.

The claims were made when the man, who legally cannot be named, asked the ACT Supreme Court to throw out his charge on Thursday (23 February).

His lawyers had launched an application to quash the proceedings or, if the court was not satisfied it was appropriate to do so, then to implement a permanent stay.

Defence barrister Mary Keaney said the allegations were that her client had been part of a conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth through two procurement processes.

Due to a subcontractor arrangement, he had been working as a technical director in the department for a program that had to be installed in different departments.

Meanwhile, it is alleged his own labour hire/IT company was putting forward candidates for roles in the two procurement processes.

But Ms Keaney claimed that not only had departmental executives encouraged the man to engage in the conduct subject to the allegations but they were also involved.

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She claimed her client had the “imprimatur” of departmental executives and had been given “carte blanche” to get the people he needed for the project, and they were aware of the industry norm of IT providers hiring their own contractors.

“There was a culture of non-compliance with procurement protocols,” Ms Keaney said.

She also attacked some of the circumstantial case against her client as “weak” and said there was no evidence of any payment to a particular person as part of the alleged conspiracy. However, Justice Belinda Baker noted the allegation was that there would be a payment, not that there had been one.

Crown prosecutor Scott Young said the department knew the man was working with them and would profit if someone from his company was appointed during procurement, but said to the department’s knowledge, the man was not to be involved in the process of selecting candidates from his company.

Mr Young alleged a co-accused, who worked as a public servant, would provide information to the man about the procurement process and favourable advice about candidates from the man’s company to the panel responsible for procurement.

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Mr Young read statements from an acting first assistant secretary in the department who said they were “not aware of any impropriety” by the co-accused and did not know of any alleged relationship between the public servant and the man’s company.

He said this was inconsistent with the claims that departmental officials had been aiding and abetting the man.

Justice Baker has reserved her decision on the application. She also made an interim non-publication order on the man’s name but said she would revisit the matter when she handed down her decision.

The man has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the Commonwealth.

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