Developer influence detailed
A corruption inquiry has been told that two City of Casey councillors held ‘very significant’ financial ties to developers in Melbourne.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) this week began public hearings into allegations of corruption at the City of Casey, in Melbourne's south-east.
IBAC forensic accountants said personal payments to Councillor Sam Aziz and his related entities were estimated at around $900,000, while those to Councillor Geoff Ablett totalled more than $330,000.
The two councillors voted for projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in Victoria's most populous and fastest-growing council area.
Counsel assisting Michael Tovey QC told the inquiry IBAC found “very significant financial relationships” between property developers, planning consultants and councillors.
“There have been votes on matters … where councillors, who have been receiving money or other benefits from a developer, have failed to declare the receipt of such benefit,” he said.
Mr Tovey said some councillors failed to fully declare the extent or nature of the conflict of interest, but tried to influence other councillors’ votes.
“The decisions which have been affected by these defective processes affect planning in respect of developments worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The hearings are set to focus on three City of Casey projects:
- The Cranbourne West precinct structure plan
- Construction of an intersection in Hall Road at Cranbourne West
- Development of the Pavilion housing estate
Mr Tovey said developer John Woodman had “a very close and controlling association with a core group of councillors”.
“[They] were expected to and did line up votes in favour of his interests,” he said.
He also revealed that “corrupt” cash payments were structured so as to disguise the flow of funds from Mr Woodman and his related entities.
Also, he said Mr Woodman may have influenced state politics.
“His reach … is not limited to local council but appears to extend to state government over the last three elections,” Mr Tovey said.
“He and organisations associated with him have contributed over $400,000 to state political campaigns.”
Mr Woodman is the director of Watsons Pty Ltd, and is due to give evidence to the inquiry.
Cr Aziz, a former mayor of Casey, will not appear at the inquiry.
Mr Aziz sold his home and moved to Egypt after being questioned in a private session.
The commission is seeking a restraining order for the proceeds of the sale of Cr Aziz's home.
Hearings are planned to last about three weeks, with eleven witnesses expected to give evidence.