Ten Flight Centre travel agencies have been referred to Northern Territory Police on suspicion of rorting a government-subsidised pensioner and carer travel concession scheme, the attorney-general says.
Police announced on Thursday the Health Department had referred the agencies, which brings to 16 the number implicated in ripping off the “vulnerable” scheme.
“We do expect Flight Centre as an organisation to co-operate with the police investigation and assist police with providing any information that may or may not pertain to a criminal matter,” Attorney-General John Elferink said.
He told reporters Flight Centre had settled “some matters” worth almost $2.3 million in relation to the travel scheme, but stressed the payment should not be linked to the police referral.
“The resolution of any civil matter by the payment of monies does not in any way as a matter of policy absolve anybody from criminal liability, should criminal liability be discovered,” Mr Elferink said.
He said the inter-agency government taskforce investigating potential abuse of the scheme found Flight Centre’s business model was similar to other business models since found to be criminal, such as the inflation of invoices where agents charged the government more for trips booked for eligible pensioners and carers than they were actually worth.
“The Pen-Con scheme came to this government in a state of disarray,” Mr Elferink said, and previous court cases “clearly demonstrated that the Pen-Con scheme was vulnerable”.
He could not comment on how widespread the rorting of the scheme might turn out to be.
Along with the 10 Flight Centre agencies, police in February announced they were investigating five other agencies across the NT, raiding one in Katherine and two in Alice Springs.
Earlier in March, Katherine travel agent Tennille Kim Foley, 38, pleaded guilty to obtaining a benefit by deception by inflating invoices to defraud the NT government of about $40,000, a practice she said she learnt while working for Flight Centre.
This follows the high-profile case of former CrimeStoppers chairwoman and Latitude Travel agency owner Xana Kamitsis, who in December was sentenced to almost four years jail for defrauding the scheme of almost $124,000, and for corruptly giving benefits to a senior political adviser in the government in order to get more government travel business.
That adviser, Paul Mossman, was chief of staff to Housing Minister Bess Price and will face trial over the matter later in 2016.
Flight Centre has been contacted for comment.