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Australia Aziz could face bribery charges for role in land scandal

16:42  14 december  2019
16:42  14 december  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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

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a man standing in front of a laptop: An IBAC surveillance photo of Casey councillor Sam Aziz (left) and developer John Woodman (right) at a Subway restaurant in April 2018.© IBAC An IBAC surveillance photo of Casey councillor Sam Aziz (left) and developer John Woodman (right) at a Subway restaurant in April 2018.

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.

Sam Aziz wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Cr Sam Aziz is former mayor of the City of Casey.© 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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The filing is the first indication of criminal charges that could be laid against the major figures in the scandal centred on developer John Woodman and Casey council. It indicates a number of people are being investigated for serious crimes, not just Cr Aziz.

Bribery carries a maximum jail term of 10 years while misconduct in public office carries a maximum seven years' jail.

The County Court filing in October was part of a successful bid by the Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) to stop Cr Aziz from selling his Berwick house.

It was filed before three weeks of public hearings through November and December where IBAC heard extraordinary evidence of alleged corruption in Melbourne’s south-east.

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That evidence included how Mr Woodman allegedly bribed two Casey councillors and showered councillors and state political candidates with donations in his bid to win planning approvals worth hundreds of millions of dollars for his developer clients and himself.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Developer John Woodman leaving the anti-corruption hearings.© Justin McManus Developer John Woodman leaving the anti-corruption hearings.

Cr Aziz allegedly brought $600,000 in cash in a suitcase to Mr Woodman in 2017 and then, over about a year, received back $822,000 to interests associated with Cr Aziz. Payments were also made to Cr Aziz's mother, his fiancé, to settle Cr Aziz's tax debts, to pay off a car lease and to settle his divorce from his ex-wife.

In the County Court affidavit investigator Darren Prickett, said that after raids on Cr Aziz’s Berwick house in September IBAC discovered the “tainted” property (the house) had been listed for sale on a real estate website for $700,000 to $770,000.

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Land title documents for Cr Aziz’s Berwick property show that judge Susan Cohen in October ordered the property not be sold.

Cr Aziz’s whereabouts are now unknown after he left Australia for the Middle East ahead of the public hearings. IBAC does not have the power to prevent people of interest, such as Cr Aziz, from leaving the country.

On Friday The Age visited the Roxburgh Park house where he had been living with his new wife before he left.

A young woman, who did not give her name, answered the door and said Cr Aziz “was not here at the moment” and when asked if he was in Australia replied “yeah”. An older woman then shut down the conversation and said “we’re not interested” in talking.

Repeated attempts to contact Cr Aziz via phone calls and text message failed and his phone number appeared to still have an international dial tone when called.

The affidavit in the County Court said Cr Aziz is “maintaining a suspected corrupt relationship” with developer John Woodman but indicated the criminal fall-out could be broader.

It said “certain City of Casey councillors”, including Cr Aziz, and “certain property developers”, including Mr Woodman, may have provided or received “bribes or secret commissions in return for favourable council decisions.”

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The investigator warned that if the criminal charges were proved at trial it would “significantly undermine” public trust in Casey council “and public trust in the Victorian planning system more broadly.”

Cr Aziz, who was born in Egypt and is a prominent Australian Coptic Christian, has had a number of significant roles outside of council including as a Victorian multicultural commissioner. He was also a political adviser to a state Labor minister in the 1990s.

He switched party allegiance to become a Liberal while on Casey council and has courted controversy with homophobic comments when in 2014 he told Muslim leaders to leave Australia and “go home” if they felt alienated.

He also had a lengthy career at Customs in sensitive senior roles including as a director of intelligence and investigations.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson would not comment on whether they had concerns that a former senior Customs official was caught up in serious allegations of corruption.“The Department does not comment on individual employee matters,” they said.

On Saturday, The Age reported that senior property development figures in Victoria are warning of a slowdown in planning approvals and a collapse of public trust in the system due to the land scandal.

Developers are also concerned that Planning Minister Richard Wynne, who is renowned for his cautious decision-making, has become even more risk-averse.

The IBAC public hearings are expected to resume in late February and run into March.

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