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WA commissioner to Japan fired after corruption investigation

Corrupt behaviour by former West Australian commissioner to Japan Craig Peacock cost taxpayers more than $500,000 and took at least a decade to be picked up, according to a report released by the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission.

Peacock “used his role, his position of trust, the discretion afforded him—and limited supervision by his employer—to enrich himself, benefit his friends; and to cover up what could have been a career-ending drink-driving incident,” alleges the report.

Craig Peacock

The commission’s list of claims against Peacock includes:

  • A decade of double-dipping on cost of living allowance claims and payments (which Peacock authorised) totalling nearly $500,000.
  • Reimbursements for the cost of utilities and storage totalling $65,000, to which he was not entitled under his contract.
  • Reimbursements for membership to the Tokyo branch of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club, where he served for nearly 13 years as its chief wine master.
  • Misuse of his official passport for travel to China to attend a convention of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club.
  • Non-payment of taxes in Australia or Japan since at least 2010.
  • An unreported crash in a state-leased car while Peacock was severely intoxicated after which he spent 48 hours in prison, was fined and disqualified from driving.
  • Destroying a computer hard drive following a direction to bring his work computer to Perth.
  • Doing favours for and wining and dining friends at the state’s expense.

Part of Peacock’s job was to arrange visits for premiers, ministers, parliamentary delegations and others. He organised a visit by then-WA parliamentarians Phillip Edman and Brian Ellis to a bathhouse called Soapland in the red light district of Yoshiwara. When examined by the CCC, Edman and Ellis both “vehemently denied” that they had sought sexual services. The CCC does not allege the MPs engaged in illegal activity.

A failure of oversight

Peacock represented WA in Tokyo for 17 years, until he was suspended without pay in December and then terminated in February for misconduct by the Director General of the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation.

The investigation has not been exhaustive, having focussed on a period of around two years, which proved sufficient for the commission to form an opinion of serious misconduct.

He was employed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet until 2017, when a machinery of government change saw responsibility moved to DJTSI.

“The commission commends DJTSI for acting on the suspicion raised by a whistleblower,” said the commission in a statement.

The claims raise questions about how such conduct was able to continue under DPC oversight for so many years.

“Although in the commission’s opinion, Mr Peacock egregiously betrayed the trust placed in him by successive governments, questions are raised as to how his conduct managed to go undetected for so many years and why no apparent scrutiny was applied to his expense claims before the role was transferred to DJTSI,” says the report.

The lack of oversight by DPC is not within the CCC’s investigative jurisdiction. The Public Sector Commission has been provided with a copy of the report.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he was shocked by the investigation’s findings.

“This report has shone a light on corrupt and fraudulent behaviour that went undetected for years,” said McGowan in a statement.

“Mr Peacock was highly trusted by many premiers, ministers and MPs over a number of years—personally I am deeply shocked by the revelations.

“The conduct of this former public officer is appalling and I expect all legal options will be explored, including by WA Police.

“Clearly previous oversight was significantly lacking, and I want to acknowledge the work of employees in JTSI who first detected the issue and referred the matter to the relevant authority.

“Director General Rebecca Brown commenced in her role in September last year and has quickly implemented important reforms to ensure more robust oversight is in place.”

DJTSI has taken a range of steps to improve internal controls and has commissioned a review and audit of WA’s overseas trade and investment offices, with KPMG engaged to undertake the immediate audit of all eight offices.

The State Solicitor’s Office is seeking recovery of approximately $500,000 from Peacock, and has obtained orders to freeze Peacock’s assets both in Australia and Japan.

‘Consider where the journey ends’

The corruption commission reiterated the costs of improper behaviour.

“Though some people spoke highly of Mr Peacock’s helpfulness and competence in advancing the interests of the state—the public face for which he deserves credit—it is also apparent that in many ways over many years, he corruptly took advantage of his position,” said the CCC in a statement.

“He is now paying the price. Taxation authorities in Japan and Australia may take an interest in his finances; he is jobless, without a Japanese visa and without prospects.

“Public officers before setting out on the road of corruption, may be wise to consider where the journey ends.”

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.