Former members of an aboriginal land council in New South Wales accepted bribes from a property developer in order to facilitate negotiations to develop properties on the east coast, an investigation has found.
In a statement released on Thursday, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) says it has found that businessman Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari and key decision makers from the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) engaged in corrupt conduct by making and accepting close to $200,000 in payments and other financial benefits to sell, develop and lease properties vested in the Wagonga LALC.
The ICAC says it also found that businessman and developer Ron Medich engaged in corrupt conduct by facilitating some of the alleged payments.
According to the ICAC report, the saga began in 2005, when Gattellari was contacted by previous work associate Ron Binge with a proposal to develop land vested in LALCs.
Not being in a position to fund any such developments, Gattellari approached Medich with regard to financial backing. Binge then told Medich that payments would need to be made to decision-makers within the LALCs in order to secure land deals.
The commission found that Gattellari subsequently made payments and provided financial benefits to Ron Mason, a previous Wagonga LALC chairperson, to the tune of $38,300, and Ken Foster, former Wagonga LALC coordinator, to the tune of $31,200, to help facilitate negotiations relating to a joint venture agreement between the Wagonga LALC and the Medich Group.
It also says Gattellari paid Vanessa Mason, a former Wagonga chairperson and CEO, $127,746 to facilitate negotiations between the Wagonga LALC and his company Water View Developments Pty Ltd in relation to proposals for long-term leases.
“Corruption findings are made against Mr Mason for accepting the payments and other financial benefits from Mr Gattellari as an inducement and reward for using his position as Wagonga LALC chairperson to facilitate and assist negotiations with the Medich Group in relation to the joint venture,” the Commission says, adding that it had also found that both Foster and Ms Mason acted corruptly in accepting payments.
The Commission suggests advice should be sought from the Director of Public Prosecutions with regard to the prosecution of both Mr and Ms Mason, Foster and Medich for a range of offences. It said, however, that Gattellari should not be prosecuted because of the level of cooperation he had provided to the investigation.
The Commission has also made three recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the government in general in order to prevent corruption. One recommendation suggests that those who are found to have engaged in either corrupt conduct or serious misconduct be excluded from positions on aboriginal land councils.
The ICAC’s findings come amid allegations in a separate case that a former building services manager from the University of Technology, Sydney accepted bribes for the awarding of maintenance and refurbishment projects.