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More ICAC prosecutions imminent: report

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The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander, has revealed that he will soon recommend corruption prosecutions involving “several matters”.

In his first annual report, tabled today, Lander said that while he is yet to launch a prosecution “arising from an investigation carried out by my office”, he expects to hand over prosecution briefs soon.

The news comes a day after six SA Police officers were charged with a range of offences following a joint ICAC/Police investigation.

“… it is not surprising that after only 10 months of operation there is yet to be a prosecution,” Lander’s report says.

“Investigations under my direction will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner.

“I will not be driven by external expectations that success is measured only by the number of public officers prosecuted.

“Rather, I will investigate matters properly and ensure that, where I consider that there is sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution, that evidence will be provided to a prosecution authority in a timely manner.

“Indeed, I anticipate providing evidence in relation to several matters to a prosecution authority in the near future.”

In ICAC’s first year the Office of Public Integrity received 923 complaints and reports, many of them related to past matters already investigated.

Most were cleared, some re-investigated.

“In some cases, I have determined to investigate the matter myself even though the matter has been previously investigated.

“I have done so where I consider that the matter deserves review.”

Ministerial staff were given a rocket by the Commissioner for their use of private email accounts to apparently by-pass Freedom of Information laws.

Lander said: “This type of conduct appears to be mainly engaged in by some ministerial staffers.

“If it is the case that public officers are engaging in this kind of conduct to avoid the consequences of the FOI Act, that conduct should cease immediately.

“It is a matter of concern that public officers would seek to circumvent a legislative scheme designed to enhance transparency in government decision making.

“Such conduct might, at the least, amount to misconduct in public administration and be the subject of investigation and potential disciplinary action.

“Presumably those emails are not maintained in accordance with the State Records Act 1997 (‘SR Act’) (where that Act applies).

“The conduct therefore might also amount to an offence against section 17 of the SR Act.”

An offence against that Act by an officer undertaking his or her duties “would amount to corruption”.

Staffers who use fake Twitter accounts are also in the Commissioner’s sights.

It’s been common practice on both sides of State politics to question, abuse and trash their political opponents.

Lander’s not impressed.

“It appears that they adopt pseudonyms to vilify other public officers; spread false information; or disclose confidential information in circumstances where it is not in the public interest that such information be disclosed.

“That type of conduct should also cease immediately.”

In a wide-ranging assessment of public accountability, Lander also recommended changes to the disclosure of lobbyists’ activities, more independent oversight of investigations into police misconduct and better training of public servants in ethics.

In the 10 months to June this year, the umbrella Office of Public Integrity received 923 complaints and reports.

After assessing some 2276 separate issues within the complaints and reports, 71 corruption investigations were opened by the Commissioner.

The investigations covered 90 complaints and reports and three “own initiative assessments”, where the Commissioner decides to act of his own accord.

There were 22 misconduct and/or maladministration in public administration matters in which the Commissioner exercised the powers of an inquiry agency.

As at 30 June 2014, 19 investigations had been closed, either because the matter wasn’t substantiated or because it was “referred to a relevant public authority to consider potential disciplinary action against a public officer”.

The report was tabled one day after it was revealed that Lander headed up the investigation into alleged theft and abuse of public office by six police officers from the Sturt local service area.

Police Commissioner Gary Burns said yesterday’s arrests and charges would have happened whether there was an ICAC or not, while the Premier Jay Weatherill said the case demonstrated that he’d done the right thing by introducing an ICAC.

The Premier today addressed the annual general meeting of Police Association and described the Sturt case as “isolated”.

“The events described yesterday by Police Commissioner Burns and Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Bruce Lander whilst unfortunate, do not diminish our respect for South Australia Police,” he said.

“These isolated incidents will be dealt with appropriately and I acknowledge SAPOL’s work in its joint investigation with ICAC.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to uncover and eliminate this sort of behaviour, wherever it exists.

“But South Australia Police has outstanding reputation on matters of integrity.

“We are fortunate to be served by a force that consistently exhibits such a high level of discipline and professionalism.”

Four male and two female officers from the Sturt local service area’s seven-person Operation Mantle unit have been charged with theft and abuse of public office.

The officers range in age from 27 to 53 and include one sergeant and a number of senior constables.

 

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