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DPP declares conflict of interest in case against senior bureaucrat

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The state’s Director of Public Prosecutions Martin Hinton has removed himself from the high-profile prosecution of the former boss of Renewal SA, after declaring a conflict of interest.

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Former top public servant John Hanlon and fellow former Renewal SA executive Georgina Vasilevski were charged early this year with offences relating to the alleged misuse of travel allowances – the latter’s totalling just $1032 – after an ICAC investigation that began 18 months earlier.

The case has now been delayed pending a Supreme Court determination of a recent District Court finding in relation to the separate case of Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell, in which judge Liesl Chapman found the ICAC had breached its own Act by referring a case directly to the DPP for prosecution.

As many as 11 cases are now awaiting a ruling on that matter.

In response to questions from InDaily, the DPP’s office today confirmed that director Martin Hinton had recused himself from the Renewal SA case – ironically because of his relationship with one of the defendants dating back to a previous ICAC matter.

In a statement, Deputy Director Sandi McDonald SC confirmed it was “correct that the Director, Martin Hinton QC, has determined he has is a conflict of interest in the matter”.

“At the time that he was the Solicitor-General, Mr Hinton had close dealings with Mr Hanlon in relation to the Gillman matter.”

McDonald said “given that Ms Vasilevski is charged on the same Information with Mr Hanlon [it follows that] that conflict extends to Ms Vasilevski”.

Hanlon’s contract was not renewed last year, while Vasilevski was made redundant during a recent agency restructure. Both had been on paid leave at the department since the ICAC investigation began in September 2018.

In a Magistrates Court hearing last week, Hanlon’s legal counsel sought an adjournment due to delays in obtaining documents under subpoena from his former agency.

Vasilevski’s lawyer did not oppose the submission but noted his client was “extremely frustrated” by ongoing delays caused by the two cases running concurrently – and that he had written to the DPP expressing as such.

Former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander said in an interview with InDaily earlier this month that the case had been delayed because he “sent my investigators to Europe [which] resulted in further charges” against Hanlon.

Asked whether Vasilevski’s charge warranted such a delay, he says: “In my view, it should be dealt with summarily by the courts… but it hasn’t been dealt with that way [and] that’s out of my hands”.

Responding to inquiries about his comments, McDonald told InDaily: “Georgina Vasilevski and John Hanlon have been charged on a joint Information with various offences of dishonesty… as such as in any case where there is more than one person charged on an Information their matter proceeds together through the court process.”

“On the last occasion that the matter was in court it was adjourned on the application of counsel for Mr Hanlon… it is understood that the application for an adjournment whilst not consented to was not opposed by counsel for Ms Vasilevski,” McDonald said in a statement.

The case could also hinge on the outcome of questions over the Bell prosecution, which will now be decided in the Supreme Court after Hinton today won a key fight in his ongoing battle to maintain the integrity of a number of cases, either before the courts or with his office, brought by the ICAC.

Bell is defending 20 counts of theft and dishonesty in relation to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hinton had earlier asked Judge Chapman to refer the matter to the Supreme Court to resolve the questions of law but she initially refused.

Today, however, the Supreme Court agreed to his application for it to hear his argument, with two days set down in November.

At the same time, Bell’s appeal against Judge Chapman’s ruling that his case could proceed to trial will also be heard.

Hinton told the court today that a key issue was whether the ICAC had the power to refer the matter straight to his office or whether he was constrained by a law which required referral to a “law enforcement agency” such as police.

He said part of the argument would be whether anyone needed specific power to approach the DPP.

“One of the arguments we will put to the court that no one needs power to walk into the director and say here’s some evidence, will you prosecute?” Hinton said.

At a previous hearing, the District Court was told that 11 matters either already before the courts or with the DPP were now “in a state of paralysis” because of the issues raised in the Bell prosecution.

The charges against him 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.

He has consistently denied the allegations and vowed to defend the charges.

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

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

-with AAP

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