Federal police will work with the NSW ICAC to see if disgraced former politician Daryl Maguire had any involvement with the ‘airport rorts’ deal in which the Commonwealth paid $30 million for land later valued at just $3 million.
It comes after explosive evidence from the national auditor-general that he referred the 2018 purchase to police amid fears the Commonwealth had been “defrauded”.
Federal auditor-general Grant Hehir, whose office exposed the shonky deal for land for the Western Sydney airport, said he contacted the AFP on July 10, months before his final report was released. The AFP investigation was revealed only last week.
Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, AFP officials said they would investigate whether Mr Maguire, the former NSW MP, had any connection to the Leppington Triangle purchase.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian caused a sensation when she told ICAC last week she had been in a secret “close personal relationship” with Mr Maguire for five years. It ended only in September.
The former MP’s involvement in a “cash for visas” scheme is being separately probed by the Home Affairs department, as revealed Monday. But part of last week’s NSW ICAC hearings also went to his involvement in a mooted $300 million sale of land, owned by racing heir Louise Raedler Waterhouse.
Mr Maguire said he believed he could be in line for $1.5 million as part of a possible deal for the Badgerys Creek property, near the site of the new Western Sydney airport.
Australian Federal Police, in their investigation into the Leppington Triangle deal, will reach out to NSW ICAC over whether former NSW MP Daryl Maguire had "any involvement"
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 20, 2020
Labor senator Kristina Keneally asked AFP deputy commissioner Ian McCartney on Tuesday whether police were investigating Mr Maguire’s “cash for visas” admissions.
“I think there’s other issues in relation to Badgerys Creek, in terms of just satisfying ourselves that Mr Maguire does not have any involvement in relation to the matter that we’re investigating,” Mr McCartney said.
“That’d be our primary focus of engaging ICAC at the minute.”
When asked by Senator Keneally whether that meant the AFP’s Leppington investigation would include speaking to ICAC about Mr Maguire’s potential involvement in land deals in the area, Mr McCartney replied “correct”.
Mr Maguire quit NSW parliament in July 2018 after a separate ICAC investigation heard he had solicited commissions for stitching up property deals with a Chinese developer.
The AFP said the audit office had handed it 256 gigabytes of information and more than 800 files related to the Leppington purchase.
AFP officials said the investigation was still at an early stage, and no criminality had yet been identified. They are looking at Section 142 of the federal criminal code – which relates to corruption by public officials.
On Monday, infrastructure department secretary Simon Atkinson said he believed there had been a cover-up around the land deal, and thought criminal activity had occurred.
Mr Hehir’s blistering audit report in September found infrastructure officials had provided “inadequate and unreliable” advice which “fell short of ethical standards”.
Mr Hehir said it was the first audit he had referred to the AFP since taking office five years ago.
“There was information that we found which we couldn’t explain and that was suggestive of the fact that the Commonwealth may have been defrauded,” he told the estimates hearing on Monday night.
Australia’s public service commissioner Peter Woolcott, in a separate estimates hearing, called the auditor-general’s report “very grim reading”.
There are three internal department investigations into the Leppington purchase, plus the AFP criminal probe. Mr Atkinson said at least one staff member had already been stood down.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong described the auditor-general’s report as “gobsmacking.”
Leppington episode ‘blatant and stupid’
Government backbencher Barnaby Joyce slammed the Leppington Triangle deal on Tuesday.
“Someone is in a world of bother,” the Nationals MP said.
Mr Joyce – who was infrastructure minister for a brief period from late 2017 to early 2018 – said he welcomed the investigations.
“There are questions to be answered,” he told The New Daily.
“It goes without saying, you have to get to the bottom of exactly where that lay.”
“There will be questions answered … and someone is in a world of bother.”
Mr Joyce, succeeded as infrastructure minister and deputy Prime Minister by fellow Nationals MP Michael McCormack, said the auditor-general had used “very strong language” in appraising the Leppington purchase.
“The discrepancy in price is incredibly hard to explain,” he said of the price paid being 10 times the later valuation.
“If people want to do something as blatant and stupid as that, then expect to be investigated and expect heads to roll.”
Labor infrastructure spokeswoman Catherine King said she wanted to see the internal reports made public, including whether any ministers’ offices were linked to the deal.
“The Commonwealth is spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars on not just Western Sydney Airport but inland rail and road projects across the country and people should be assured that they are getting value for money, and that there is nothing dodgy going on in planning decisions or in acquisition decisions,” she told TND.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese called it a “very serious issue” and said his party would continue to pursue the deal through further estimates hearings in the next fortnight.