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ICAC slammed as Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell loses bid to halt trial

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UPDATED | A judge has found the state’s anti-corruption watchdog may have acted contrary to its own governing Act, but a criminal case against South Australian independent MP Troy Bell will continue – after he lost a bid to have theft and dishonesty charges permanently stayed.

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The former Liberal MP, who left the party after charges were laid following an ICAC investigation, has pleaded not guilty to 20 counts of theft and six counts of aggravated dishonestly dealing with documents.

He recently applied to the District Court for a permanent stay of the proceedings because of errors in how the case against him was compiled which he said would prevent him receiving a fair trial.

But in a judgment on Friday, Judge Liesl Chapman dismissed the application.

However, she was critical of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, saying ICAC’s “referral of the matter direct to the DPP, with the provision of information and evidence at the time, was contrary to the ICAC Act”.

The matter should have been instead referred to  SA Police “for further investigation and prosecution”, she wrote in her reasons for her decision.

Further, the involvement of ICAC investigators in the prosecution of the charges once laid was “beyond the functions of the ICAC”, the judge said.

But she said while the mistakes and errors that were made were unhelpful, allowing the prosecution to proceed would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Bell’s alleged offending relates to the misappropriation of thousands of dollars and followed an investigation by the ICAC.

The charges cover a period before he entered state parliament when he worked as an independent provider of educational programs.

Prosecutors have accused him of overcharging and falsifying invoices, accounts and meeting minutes.

But in arguing for the stay, his lawyers were critical of the relationship between ICAC investigators and the Director of Public Prosecutions, particularly the move to refer the case directly to prosecutors, bypassing police.

“My decision not to grant a stay is not to condone the direct referral to the DPP,  the bypassing of SAPOL involvement and the engagement of the ICAC in criminal proceedings, but rather to recognise that a stay will only be granted in very rare circumstances,” Judge Chapman said.

Outside court Bell said while he was disappointed with the decision, seeking a permanent stay was always a “high hurdle” to overcome.

“This just means that we progress and I look forward to clearing my name,” he said.

Bell’s legal team has also flagged seeking leave to appeal Judge Chapman’s ruling in the Supreme Court.

As the member for Mount Gambier, he was first elected as a Liberal in 2014 but quit the party after his arrest in August 2017.

He was returned at the 2018 state election after contesting the poll as an independent.

-AAP

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