Court dismisses fraud charges against councillors

Queensland’s peak local government body wants an independent inquiry into a corruption investigation that sparked the dismissal of Logan City Council after fraud charges were dismissed in court.

Greg Hallam

It is also calling for compensation and a public apology for seven councillors whom it says were wrongly accused by the state’s corruption watchdog.

The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission in April 2019 charged Logan City Mayor Luke Smith and seven other councillors with fraud relating to the dismissal of CEO Sharon Kelsey in 2018.

The fraud charges, which led to the sacking of Council, were dismissed in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday after the DPP told the court it had decided not to proceed because of insufficient evidence.

LGAQ has attacked the CCC for levelling the charges against the councillors and has called for CCC Chair Alan MacSporran to stand aside while an independent inquiry is held, as well compensation and a public apology for the former councillors.

LGAQ CEO Greg Hallam said the DPP’s decision had vindicated the councillors.

He accused the CCC of wading into what was an industrial relations dispute outside its jurisdiction.

“Careers, lives and reputations were ruined and a democratically elected council wrongly sacked before these erroneously laid charges could be properly tested by the courts,” Mr Hallam said.

He said LGAQ had written to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Attorney General Shannon Fentiman to request an independent review.

“We need an inquiry to prevent this happening to another Queensland community,” he said.

“We also have called upon the government to issue a full, unqualified apology to the seven councillors and to compensate them for the losses that they have incurred during this period,” he said.

CCC defends probe

A spokesperson for the Queensland government said like anyone else LGQA could approach the Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee, which has oversight of the CCC, to complain about the handling of a case.

“The Committee is in the process of its Five Year Statutory Review of the CCC,” the spokesperson said

“It has held public hearings and taken submissions and will report by the end of the financial year.”

Mr MacSporran said investigating allegations of corruption was a legitimate and lawful activity of the CCC and the commission had acted within the bounds of its powers and jurisdicition.

“The Crime and Corruption Commission is established by law and exists to combat and reduce the incidence of major crime and to continuously improve the integrity of, and to reduce the incidence of corruption in the public sector,” he said in a statement.

“This includes the local government sector. When the CCC receives allegations of corruption involving the public sector and elected officials, it assesses these allegations to determine whether an investigation is warranted.

“it is difficult to see how it could be reasonable suggested there should be an inquiry into the CCC’s conduct.”

Mr Smith had his fraud charges dropped but was committed to stand trial on two separate counts of misconduct in public office. He did not enter a plea.

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