The New South Wales corruption watchdog has suggested that former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire may be prosecuted along with former Canterbury City Council officials, in corruption findings released on Monday.
In its report on Operation Dasha, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found former council officials Michael Hawatt, Pierre Azzi, and Spiro Stavis engaged in “serious corrupt conduct by dishonestly and partially exercising their official functions through misusing their positions in relation to planning proposals and applications at the council”.
The ex councillors, Hawatt and Azzi, had pressured then general manager Jim Montague to engage in corrupt conduct by appointing Stavis as director of city planning, and had shown Stavis the job interview questions in advance, ICAC found.
“They failed to disclose their relationships with developers when exercising their official functions to vote in favour of certain development applications and modifications to development consents,” ICAC said in a statement.
“Mr Hawatt also misused his position as a councillor to act favourably in relation to development applications involving two properties in which his daughter and son-in-law had a pecuniary interest.”
According to ICAC, Stavis misused his position to influence the outcome of a development application for his neighbour’s property. He also influenced a consultant to prepare a report for a planning proposal for a development in Punchbowl to favour the developer’s interests, and removed material that was critical of that planning proposal from a draft report to the council’s City Development Committee.
The corrupt conduct had occurred from 2014 to 2016. The report said advice should be obtained from the Director of Public Prosecutions in regard to the prosecution of Hawatt, Azzi, and Stavis, developers Charbel Demian and Marwan Chanine, and Maguire.
The disgraced former MP could be prosecuted for two offences, for “giving false or misleading evidence at the public inquiry” on July 13, 2018, ICAC said.
In 2016, Maguire and Hawatt had attempted to obtain a commission fee through the sale of a site in Campsie — known as Harrison’s — by making introductions to another possible purchaser, Country Garden Australia. He was representing Wagga Wagga at the time.
In his evidence to ICAC, Maguire “initially denied that he had ever attempted to do business with Mr Hawatt or that Mr Hawatt had ever attempted to do business with him”, the report said.
“He denied, in 2016, approaching Mr Hawatt with a view to making money out of a business. Mr Maguire also told the commission that he did look for potential development opportunities for Country Garden Australia, but this was only because he had a friend who worked there. As will be seen, this evidence was not truthful,” it said.
The findings have come less than six months after a corruption investigation revealed that Maguire had a close personal relationship with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
There were a number of factors that had contributed to corruption at Canterbury City Council, ICAC concluded.
“Corrupt planning decisions at the council were a consequence of both underlying integrity issues and poor controls, and a NSW planning system that lacks effective anti-corruption safeguards,” it said.
ICAC said the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) had failed to properly oversee the making and amendment of local environmental plans. It also criticised the weak regulation of lobbying in the local government sector, as well as the “poor recordkeeping of senior staff at the council”.
The commission has made 23 recommendations, including that the state government amends the Lobbying of Government Officials Act 2011 to ensure all provisions apply to local government.
The DPIE should establish a clear process to ensure guidelines for councils on varying development standards are “subject to regular review and can accommodate advice or changes arising from decisions of the NSW courts”, and should set up a program of regular risk-based auditing of council processes relating to the making of local environmental plan amendments to “help provide assurance”.