Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Commonwealth cleared in Western Sydney Airport land purchase

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has finalised its investigation into the Commonwealth of Australia’s $32 million purchase of land for the development of the Western Sydney Airport, saying it identified no evidence of criminal conduct.

A 12.26-hectare triangular parcel of land known as the ‘Leppington Triangle’ in Bringelly, NSW was acquired in July 2018. The land acquisition process was undertaken by the Western Sydney Unit of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (Department of Infrastructure).

The purchase was for the development of the Western Sydney Airport, for which the Commonwealth of Australia paid $32,822,928.

In June 2019, the same parcel of land was valued at $3,065,000 within the Department of Infrastructure’s financial statements for the Financial Year 2018/19.

“The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) conducted a performance audit into the purchase, and published its audit Purchase of the ‘Leppington Triangle’ Land for the Future Development of Western Sydney Airport in 2020,” the AFP said in a statement today.

On 13 July 2020, the AFP received correspondence from the Auditor-General for Australia in relation to the Commonwealth’s acquisition of Leppington Triangle.

The Auditor-General requested the AFP consider the matter for criminal investigation, noting the ANAO audit had ‘found information that we cannot explain and is suggestive that the Commonwealth may have been defrauded’.

The AFP commenced Operation Verraten on 27 July 2020, an investigation into whether any criminal conduct had occurred in relation to the purchase of Leppington Triangle.

In addition to the ANAO audit, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications also commissioned an independent review (known as the Sententia Report).

“The AFP investigation team, based in the Eastern Command in Sydney, conducted a full and thorough investigation into the serious allegations of criminal conduct involving the use of public funds,” the AFP said.

“The investigation involved engagement with the ANAO and the Department of Infrastructure, who worked cooperatively with the AFP during the course of the investigation.

“The investigation involved the analysis of extensive documentary and digital holdings, the interview of numerous relevant people – including Department of Infrastructure staff who were involved in the acquisition process – and a detailed financial analysis of payments made in relation to the purchase.”

Throughout the investigation, the AFP says it considered all potentially applicable offences under Commonwealth law, primarily focusing on;

• Bribery of a Commonwealth Official, contrary to section 141.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995;

• Conspiracy to Defraud, contrary to section 135.4 of the Criminal Code Act 1995; and

• Abuse of Public Office, contrary to section 142.2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The AFP carefully assessed whether there was sufficient evidence to establish elements of the respective offences.

“The investigation did not identify any evidence of criminal offending by Commonwealth officials, or other people involved in the purchase,” the AFP said.

“The financial analysis undertaken as part of the investigation found no evidence of Commonwealth officials obtaining a personal benefit from the acquisition, or other persons receiving or paying corrupt payments.”

The AFP investigation found that the purchase was in line with the requirements of the Lands Acquisition Act (1989), and was authorised by appropriate Commonwealth officials and authorities.

The AFP Sensitive Investigation Oversight Board (SIOB) oversighted the investigation. The SIOB consists of a quorum of Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners, with the Deputy Commissioner Investigations as the Chair and decision maker.

The SIOB supported the findings of Operation Verraten, that the investigation did not identify any evidence of criminal offending.

“Consequently, the AFP has finalised this investigation and no further action will be taken.”

“The ANAO and the Department of Infrastructure have been formally advised of this decision,” the AFP said.

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