Service NSW officer improperly accessed restricted information, agreed to alter records

By Shannon Jenkins

Tuesday May 11, 2021

ICAC corruption
(Getty Images)

The New South Wales corruption watchdog has found a Service NSW employee engaged in ‘serious corrupt conduct’ multiple times during 2019, including by agreeing to alter government records in exchange for money.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption released its report on Operation Mistral on Tuesday, highlighting corruption risks within Service NSW.

ICAC found customer service officer Diana Benyamin engaged in serious corrupt conduct in January 2019 when she agreed to process a motor vehicle registration in return for a payment. Her high school friend, Fahad Al-Dakak, had asked for the favour on behalf of his friend.

While Benyamin never received the payment, ICAC found that she had agreed to Al-Dakak’s proposal, and had taken steps to facilitate the transfer of the registration. Benyamin gave Al-Dakak the wording for a false statutory declaration to enable the transfer, and instructions to ensure she was the customer service officer who dealt with the transaction, the commission said.

The ICAC report revealed that Benyamin agreed to supply the address of the owner of a motor vehicle from the government’s Driver and Vehicle IT System (DRIVES) restricted database in return for payment.

“On the basis of that false statutory declaration Ms Benyamin would, in the exercise of her official functions, witness the document, access the DRIVES restricted database, and effect the transfer of registration. She would also provide restricted data from the DRIVES database, namely, the address of the registered owner of another motor vehicle,” it said.

“No doubt the conduct of Ms Benyamin and Mr Al-Dakak would have been more serious had the agreements been completed. However, the agreements in and of themselves were of sufficient seriousness to attract the commission’s powers of investigation and its power to make findings of serious corrupt conduct.”

ICAC also found that in May 2019, Benyamin used the DRIVES database to improperly access the personal information of an individual. She intentionally disclosed the individual’s residential address and licence plate number to her sister.

Benyamin was found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct again in July 2019, by ‘intentionally and dishonestly’ causing one of her colleagues to access personal information on DRIVES. The information was the original purchase price paid by a seller for a vehicle purchased by Benyamin’s sister on behalf of her father, which Benyamin then disclosed to her sister.

READ MORE: NSW privacy commissioner encourages government agencies to make privacy a priority

ICAC found that Service NSW ‘failed to prevent or detect unauthorised access’ of DRIVES, and the agency’s quality control framework ‘failed to adequately address misuse of information risks’.

Further, Service NSW documents to customer service offers were unclear about when or whether transactions for family and friends were permitted, the report noted.

“The lack of clarity around the circumstances in which it is permissible to perform a transaction for a family member or friend creates a risk that a customer service officer could improperly serve a family or friend member,” it said.

The corruption watchdog also pointed out issues with the registers that are used at agency service centres to record instances where customer service officers have performed transactions for family or friends.

ICAC has made four recommendations to help Service NSW prevent corrupt conduct, including that the agency implements a risk-based system to improve detection of unauthorised access of personal information, and provides clear guidance on the circumstances where managers can consider allowing an employee to perform transactions in DRIVES for a family member or friend.

The commission said Service NSW should give consideration to the taking of disciplinary action against Benyamin.

ICAC has also sought advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions with respect to the prosecution of Benyamin and Al-Dakak for various offences.

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