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ICAC eyes Liberal donations

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NSW Liberal figures used a sham company to secretly funnel more than $400,000 in donations to prospective MPs and associates in exchange for favours, a corruption inquiry has heard.

“This inquiry will expose the systematic subversion of the electoral funding laws of NSW,” counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson told the Independent Commission Against Corruption as the Operation Spicer hearings began.

In the ICAC’s sights are former NSW energy minister Chris Hartcher and former staffer Tim Koelma.

Mr Koelma’s company EightByFive is said to have solicited illicit political donations and funded election campaigns for Central Coast MPs Darren Webber and Chris Spence in return for favours from Mr Hartcher.

One-time mining magnate Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev Group paid $66,000, the Gazal family’s development firm Gazcorp paid $137,000, and the notorious Obeid-linked Australian Water Holdings (AWH) paid $137,000 for fake services invoiced by EightByFive, the inquiry has heard.

Mr Hartcher resigned from the front bench last year after ICAC investigators raided his office.

The inquiry comes on the heels of Operation Credo, which felled former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell.

The new probe has already threatened to draw in Police Minister Michael Gallacher and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts.

The inquiry has heard that Mr Roberts may have joined Mr Hartcher as a guest on Nabil Gazal’s yacht, which came replete with private chef, and in 2007 sailed to Hamilton Island, the luxury resort island in Queensland’s Whitsundays.

The inquiry has heard Liberal MP Marie Ficarra took a banned $5000 donation from property developer Tony Merhi.

Operation Spicer will also examine a false corruption complaint levelled against former Sydney Water managing director Kerry Schott.

The ICAC has heard Mr Koelma’s brother Eric made an anonymous complaint against Dr Schott – which later proved to be baseless – because she was seen as a stumbling block in EightByFive donor AWH’s bid to secure a lucrative government deal.

Mr Watson said Eric Koelma made a complaint involving allegations of “cover-ups” and “jobs for the boys”, which were included in a document sent to him by his brother.

“No, it was not done to disguise (Tim Koelma’s) hand in this – he says he sent it on to Eric because his printer had run out of toner,” Mr Watson said.

The first witness will appear on Monday afternoon.

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