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ICAC finds former City of Ryde Mayor and others corrupt

Monday 30 June 2014

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that the former mayor of the City of Ryde, Ivan Petch, engaged in corrupt conduct in relation to the release of confidential information for various purposes including attempts to cast doubt on the suitability of John Neish to serve as the Council's general manager.  

In its report, Investigation into the conduct of certain City of Ryde councillors and others, released today, the Commission finds that Mr Petch deliberately released confidential advice from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to Anthony Stavrinos and an email from the Council's group manager of environment and planning to businessman Norman Cerreto, in both cases with the intention that the information would be provided to property developer John Goubran and used by him for his benefit.

Mr Goubran engaged in corrupt conduct by arranging through real estate agent Tony Abboud to convey a threat to Mr Neish implying that Mr Neish's position of general manager would not be safe after the 2012 local government elections unless Mr Neish agreed to establish a community consultative committee to consider the Ryde civic precinct redevelopment, a proposal aimed at delaying the redevelopment until after the elections. Mr Petch also engaged in corrupt conduct by arranging, through Mr Goubran, to convey this threat to Mr Neish.

Mr Petch engaged in further corrupt conduct by releasing confidential information concerning the discovery of adult material on Mr Neish's computer to various people in an attempt to encourage its reporting in the media so as to undermine Mr Neish's credibility and reputation, and to cast doubt on his suitability to serve as the Council's general manager.

Other corrupt conduct findings against Mr Petch are based on his deliberate release of confidential information about the Ryde civic precinct development to lawyer John Mahony, and confidential information to Mr Cerreto about Council waste collection and disposal contract. Mr Petch also attempted to improperly influence acting general manager Danielle Dickson to resolve in favour of six defendant councillors (including himself) an ongoing costs dispute in relation to Supreme Court of NSW proceedings, with the implied threat that if she did not do so, he and his fellow defendant councillors would not support her application to be appointed to the position of general manager.

Mr Petch also deliberately failed to disclose his pecuniary interest or conflict of interest arising from his financial dealing with the owner and managing editor of The Weekly Times, and with the newspaper itself.

Richard Henricus, a contractor performing work for The Weekly Times, engaged in corrupt conduct by approaching and telling Councillor Bill Pickering that he would receive favourable publicity in the newspaper if he withdrew his opposition to a development application lodged by Mr Booth in relation to the property on which The Weekly Times' office was located.

The Commission is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with respect to the prosecution of Mr Petch, Mr Goubran, Mr Stavrinos, Mr Booth and Mr Henricus for various offences.

The ICAC is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP also with respect to the prosecution of Mr Petch, councillors Justin Li, Jeffrey Salvestro-Martin, Terry Perram and former councillor Victor Tagg for offences under the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981 in relation to advertising published in The Weekly Times in August and September 2012. The Commission also recommends that the Office of Local Government gives consideration to disciplinary action against Mr Petch, with a view to his dismissal.             

The Commission held a public inquiry as part of this investigation over 11 days, between 15 and 26 July 2013, and on 20 September 2013. Assistant Commissioner Theresa Hamilton presided at the public inquiry at which 23 witnesses gave evidence.

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

Investigation report   Fact sheet