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Australia Man who paid councillor Sam Aziz $80,000 for defamation wants his money back

15:50  07 december  2019
15:50  07 december  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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Casey councillor Sam Aziz received a significant damages payment to settle a defamation case against a local resident just months before Victoria's corruption watchdog accused him of pocketing $900,000 from a property developer.

Sam Aziz holding a sign: Cr Sam Aziz is former mayor of the City of Casey.© James Taylor Cr Sam Aziz is former mayor of the City of Casey. The Age can reveal Casey resident Martin Angenent paid about $80,000 to Cr Aziz and his lawyers in May, after criticising the former mayor's cosy relationship with a developer on social media in 2017.

But after a series of stunning claims about Cr Aziz' alleged misconduct during recent hearings by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, Mr Angenent is now considering launching fresh legal action against Cr Aziz and the City of Casey Council.

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Mr Angenent refused to comment on the case, but his lawyer Mark Stanarevic confirmed he was assessing a legal challenge to the settlement.

The potential challenge comes amid concerns about the misuse of defamation laws by politicians and powerful figures attempting to stifle dissent or fend off scrutiny.

There are also issues about the funding of Cr Aziz's litigation, with the council refusing to answer questions from The Age other than to say it had complied with the Local Government Act.

Mr Angenent's legal problems began in February 2017, when he took to the Berwick Springs Estate Facebook page to voice his opposition to a council plan to reconfigure the entrance to the estate and build a large roundabout.

"Council will not acknowledge the concerns of the residents about the current proposal, but accepted the views of the cashed-up developer.

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"The whole process to the required upgrade works has been a deplorable, unprofessional joke," Mr Angenent posted on February 25, 2017.

But within months, Mr Angenent felt the full force of Cr Aziz's legal team, who claimed in a 40-page letter that the posts had 28 defamatory imputations.

The correspondence from law firm Barry Nilsson, which regularly act for Casey Council, said Cr Aziz had the "highest reputation as an honest, efficient and competent mayor and local councillor."

"If this matter is litigated, we consider that a court would award our client general damages close to the statutory maximum of $381,000," a partner from Barry Nilsson said in April 2017.

According to a writ filed in the County Court, Cr Aziz was "held up to hatred, ridicule and contempt, has been seriously injured in his credit and reputation, has suffered hurt and embarrassment, has suffered and will continue to suffer loss and damage".

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As the dispute headed for trial, Mr Angenent made a substantial payment to Cr Aziz and agreed to pay his legal fees, with the case finalised in May 2019.

However, over the past three weeks, Cr Aziz' reputation has taken a battering as explosive details of IBAC's Operation Sandon were aired during public hearings.

Property developer John Woodman's companies paid $900,000 into bank accounts associated with Cr Aziz, who repeatedly argued and voted for projects linked to Mr Woodman, according to the hearing.

Counsel assisting the hearing, Michael Tovey, QC, told the commission Mr Woodman was given $600,000 cash in a suitcase from Cr Aziz in 2017, which Mr Woodman returned with interest, totalling $822,000.

Some of the money was returned through payments to bank accounts of Cr Aziz's family members or funds to settle his tax debts, the commission heard.

Cr Aziz received monthly payments of $25,000 for supposed consultancy work on a proposed satellite city at Little River, west of Melbourne. Under questioning by Mr Tovey, Mr Woodman confirmed that Cr Aziz had not delivered the work he been commissioned to do.

Cr Aziz has not appeared at the hearing, after selling his house and leaving to Egypt, where he claimed to have a “work assignment”.

Last month, he defended his conduct at Casey Council during a rambling interview with 3AW.

“I have never ever in my entire career of 35 years of public service received a bribe for anything, I would never expect it,” Cr Aziz told host Neil Mitchell.

“I have acted in the best interests of my community. My record in terms of what has been delivered to the people in the City of Casey speaks for itself.”

Cr Aziz did not respond to requests for comment from The Age.

Aziz could face bribery charges for role in land scandal .
Allegedly corrupt local councillor Sam Aziz is one of a number of key players in the Casey land scandal suspected by authorities of having committed serious criminal offences that carry potentially lengthy jail terms.© James Taylor Cr Sam Aziz is former mayor of the City of Casey. Documents filed in the County Court reveal that Cr Aziz is suspected of having committed offences such as receiving bribes, misconduct in public office and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

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