ICAC finds corrupt conduct in Wagonga LALC land dealings

 Thursday 27 September 2012

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that businessman Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari and key Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council (Wagonga LALC) decision-makers Ron Mason, Ken Foster and Vanessa Mason engaged in corrupt conduct by making and accepting close to $200,000 in payments and other financial benefits to facilitate negotiations to sell, develop and lease properties vested in the Wagonga LALC.

In its report on the Investigation into the conduct of officers of the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council and others, released today, the Commission also finds that businessman and developer Ron Medich engaged in corrupt conduct by facilitating some of these payments to the Wagonga LALC decision-makers. Mr Mason is a previous Wagonga LALC chairperson, Mr Foster was formerly Wagonga LALC coordinator, and Ms Mason is a former Wagonga LALC chairperson and CEO.

The report notes that Mr Gattellari was contacted in 2005 by Ron Binge, a previous work associate, with a proposal to develop land vested in LALCs. Mr Binge is an Aboriginal man who conceived an idea of approaching LALCs with proposals to develop their land, as he had connections within LALC networks. As Mr Gattellari was not in a position to fund any land developments, he approached Mr Medich for funding.

The Commission accepts Mr Gattellari's evidence that Mr Medich was told by Mr Binge that payments would need to be made to decision-makers within the LALCs in order to secure land deals. "Mr Gattellari's evidence is supported by the fact that such payments were eventually made to Wagonga LALC decision-makers and by the fact that decisions favourable to the interests of Mr Gattellari, Mr Binge and Mr Medich were ultimately made by Wagonga LALC decision-makers," the report says.

The Commission found that Mr Gattellari engaged in corrupt conduct by making payments and providing other financial benefits to Mr Mason totalling approximately $38,300, and to Mr Foster totalling $31,300, to help facilitate negotiations relating to a joint venture agreement between the Wagonga LALC and the Medich Group. Mr Gattellari also engaged in corrupt conduct by making payments to Ms Mason totalling approximately $127,746 to facilitate negotiations between the Wagonga LALC and his company Water View Developments Pty Ltd in relation to proposed long-term leases.

Corruption findings are made against Mr Mason for accepting the payments and other financial benefits from Mr Gattellari as an inducement and reward for using his position as Wagonga LALC chairperson to facilitate and assist negotiations with the Medich Group in relation to the joint venture. The Commission also found that Mr Foster acted corruptly by accepting the payments and other benefits from Mr Gattellari as an inducement to use his position as Wagonga LALC coordinator to facilitate negotiations with the Medich Group in relation to the joint venture agreement.

Ms Mason engaged in corrupt conduct by accepting the payments made to her and her company by Mr Gattellari as a reward for having used her position as Wagonga LALC CEO to facilitate negotiations between the LALC and Water View Developments, and as an inducement for her to continue using her position as CEO to assist Mr Gattellari and Water View Developments in the future. Mr Medich was found to have engaged in corrupt conduct by facilitating the provision of financial benefits to the Wagonga LALC decision-makers to assist the negotiations relating to the joint venture agreement and the proposed long-term leases.

The Commission has made three corruption prevention recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and the government generally, including that the minister considers a review of the operation of Part 10 of the Aboriginal Lands Right Act 1983 in meeting the expectations of the lands right network by excluding individuals who have been found to have engaged in corrupt conduct or in serious misconduct for a period of up to five years.              

Further, the ICAC is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions with respect to the prosecution of Mr Mason, Mr Foster, Ms Mason and Mr Medich for various offences.

The Commission held a public inquiry as part of the investigation over four days commencing on 27 February 2012. Assistant Commissioner Theresa Hamilton presided at the public inquiry, at which 15 witnesses gave evidence.

Fact sheet

Investigation report

Media contact: ICAC Manager Communications & Media Nicole Thomas 02 8281 5799 / 0417 467 801

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