The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has revealed its investigation of a controversial land deal near Western Sydney Airport is probing concerns of fraud and corruption.
A deal that saw taxpayers fork out $30 million for land evaluated at just $3 million had been referred to the AFP by the Auditor General, Grant Hehir, in July, after the office obtained information the federal government “may have been defrauded”.
The funds had been splashed on a 12-hectare plot of land near the Western Sydney Airport, dubbed the ‘Leppington Triangle’, in mid-2018.
Hehir told Senate Estimates on Monday this had been the first time he had ever contacted the AFP about an audit.
AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney, who oversees major investigations within the organisation, said the matter was at a “very early junction”, but was focused on potential “corruption of public officials”, according to ABC News.
Furthermore, recent reports show the AFP is in the process of contacting the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to seek information on whether disgraced former state politician Daryl Maguire had any involvement in the deal.
According to the national broadcaster, the ICAC has heard allegations about the former state MP’s use of his position for financial gain, such as on land deals in Western Sydney.
Deputy Commissioner McCartney said the ICAC probe would not influence the separate investigation into the Leppington Triangle.
“So, as part of your preliminary investigation into the Leppington Triangle, you will also speak to ICAC about Mr Maguire’s potential involvement in land transactions there?” Labor senator Kristina Keneally asked in Senate estimates on Tuesday.
“Correct,” McCartney replied.
Maguire is also at the centre of an anti-corruption probe investigating a cash-for-visas scheme.
The Department of Home Affairs, which is assisting the inquiry, told Senate Estimates on Tuesday that Maguire might have made representations to federal politicians, according to ABC News.
Under questioning from Labor, Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to deny that he was among the politicians Maguire lobbied.
On Monday, ABC News reported that two staff in the Department of Infrastructure’s Western Sydney Unit were being investigated, with one moved to another role and the other stood down.
Department secretary Simon Atkinson told the Senate committee he had serious concerns about how the deal was handled and wanted to “clean it up”. He said he had commissioned three internal inquiries into the deal.
The news comes after the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) said in its audit that the Department of Infrastructure had not exercised appropriate due diligence in its acquisition of the Leppington Triangle land.
Aspects of the operations of the department “fell short of ethical standards” and the conduct of officials was “not appropriate”, the ANAO said.
The scathing report also claimed decision-makers “were not appropriately advised on the land acquisition”.
Featured image source: iStock/imamember