ICAC recommends criminal charges in Wollongong

In the third and final part of its Report on an investigation into corruption allegations affecting Wollongong City Council, the ICAC has made 24 corrupt conduct findings against 10 people and has recommended seeking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prosecuting 11 individuals for 139 criminal offences.

The corruption watchdog also made 27 corruption prevention recommendations, many of which will have broader relevance to other councils across NSW.  

Corrupt conduct findings have been made against former Senior Development Project Officer Beth Morgan, who the ICAC found abused her position at the council to provide favours to developers with whom she was intimately involved.   

Corrupt conduct findings have also been made against two of the developers Ms Morgan assisted (Frank Vellar and Bulent “Glen” Tabak) and three of her superiors at the Council (former General Manager Rod Oxley and former senior managers Joe Scimone and John Gilbert), who the Commission found ignored evidence of her misconduct and also provided unduly favourable treatment to Mr Vellar or Mr Tabak.

The Commission also found that former Councillor Valerio Zanotto engaged in corrupt conduct by leaking confidential council information to Mr Vellar and voting in favour of his development proposals while concealing his friendship and financial relationship with him.

Former councillors Kiril Jonovski, Zeki Esen and Frank Gigliotti also engaged in corrupt conduct according to the Commission, by soliciting a political donation from Mr Vellar in the order of $20,000 in return for supporting one of his development proposals and also by completing false or misleading pecuniary interest returns.  

The report also identifies areas of weakness at Wollongong Council that contributed to the corrupt conduct, including Mr Oxley’s ‘pro-development enthusiasm’ and “his actions in dismantling, undermining and ignoring internal anti-corruption firewalls, which created a straightforward opportunity for corrupt developers to influence the development application assessment process from start to finish”.

The ICAC’s report also singled out the NSW Planning Department for criticism, finding the department could have played a stronger role in preventing the corruption.

The ICAC Commissioner, the Hon Jerrold Cripps QC, said that it is not uncommon to find cases where multiple layers of management in an organisation fail to detect corrupt conduct or mismanage known corruption risks.
“But to establish actual corrupt conduct within five levels of a NSW public sector organisation, as has occurred with Wollongong City Council, is without precedent,” he said.  

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