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Former bureaucrat's plea: 'ICAC needs stronger independent oversight'

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A former Transport Department official who was fined $5000 after a four-year legal saga sparked by an ICAC investigation has written to the Marshall Government demanding an independent review of his case and stronger oversight of the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

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Michael William King, 49, was convicted in June of misusing a departmental credit card for the purchase of items totalling $3793. He pleaded guilty to those charges after a long legal battle which saw several other charges that were brought against him and others following a lengthy ICAC investigation ultimately withdrawn.

In a letter to Attorney-General Vickie Chapman, King now argues that because his case was referred directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions by ICAC, there are “clear parallels” with that of independent MP Troy Bell, whose trial has stalled pending a Supreme Court adjudication on District Court judge Liesl Chapman’s finding that ICAC breached its own Act by referring the matter directly to the DPP, bypassing police.

DPP Martin Hinton has told the court progress on 11 current ICAC-referred cases has been “paralysed” by the finding.

In correspondence written on King’s behalf, the former bureaucrat calls for “an independent, non-government legal review” of his case, and the “establishment of an independent oversight of the ICAC”.

The letter argues that the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption’s Office for Public Integrity is institutionally protected from challenges to its authority, with the current review system “not appropriate for formal complaints, due to its lack of
 independence”.

“Our motivation in distributing this information is to… ensure ICAC is held to account over its actions in our case,” it reads.

“We hope to see improved oversight in the ICAC, so that no one else should suffer this injustice…

“Our experience has been destructive, but we remain determined to raise the awareness of this travesty of justice,” the letter states.

The correspondence describes King as having been an “exemplary” and “highly-regarded Regional Manager of the Marine Operations Response Section” at the then-Department of Planning Transport and Infrastructure, as well as a Level 3 Incident Controller for the National Oil Spill Response.

After physical injuries and brain trauma sustained when he was hit by a car while cycling in 2011, he took intermittent time off work for various surgical procedures, one of which coincided with an agency asset review, which led to his home being raided by ICAC on two occasions and his being suspended from work indefinitely.

“It was the usual practice for Mr King, along with all team members, to have work equipment at home, as part of their operational roles,” the letter states.

He was also charged with various offences relating to credit card misuse.

King’s case made headlines during pre-trial proceedings in 2018 when magistrate David McLeod ruled that the warrants used by ICAC investigators were invalid, however that decision was later overturned in the Supreme Court.

Four other officers investigated by ICAC faced other charges brought following the same investigation, however these were all dismissed after their first court appearance.

King’s letter states investigators did not share video evidence of the ICAC searches on his house for almost three years after the initial search, while “the DVD of the search of another public officer’s house was not shared until requested by the court in the last week of our trial in June 2020, nearly six years after the search was conducted”.

“Initially, Mr King faced 30 minor indictable charges in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court [but] these charges were altered over the years… the long drawn-out court process has taken an extraordinary toll on the entire family, not only financially but physically, mentally and socially,” the letter states.

“The Kings have expended almost half a million dollars in legal fees to defend their position [and] it is believed that the charges bought against Mr King were unjust in the first instance.”

The letter argues King pleaded guilty to “the final two charges” on advice that he faced a “no win” situation.

“Mr King still maintains innocence of these two charges, but was no longer in a financial or emotional position to continue the fight.

“It has taken more than six years for ICAC and the DPP to use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut… we can only estimate the millions of dollars spent by ICAC and the DPP to prosecute the King case.

“We fail to see how this case meets the criteria of serious and systemic corruption in public office, and can be justified use of such an enormous amount of public money.”

King’s letter argues a defendant’s “chance to defend themselves against ICAC allegations is obstructed by the secrecy provisions in the ICAC Act”.

“We were ordered not to correspond with anyone, and every witness for the Crown was also told not to talk to us, or our legal team,” the letter says.

“Mr King could not talk to any of his work colleagues, nor could the Kings talk to their family who were also interrogated by the ICAC…

“It is a challenge to prepare a defence with no information available other than what the DPP provide, and with a defendant who has a traumatic brain injury…

“The personal toll on Mr King has been immense, and he has attempted suicide twice. He has become a recluse, who no longer trusts people he should trust.”

The letter outlines concerns that “there is no independent oversight of the ICAC”, arguing pursuing a complaint in the Supreme Court is “very difficult for a defendant after undergoing a process in the lower courts”, and questioning the impartiality of the process given then-ICAC Bruce Lander was also the state’s Judicial Conduct Commissioner.

King also questions the efficacy of the ICAC Reviewer process, arguing that office “needs to talk to the ICAC Commissioner to use his resources, in order to investigate” complaints.

“This process has been personally destructive, but we remain determined to proceed with this initial complaint to raise the awareness of this travesty of justice,” the letter says.

Lander, who finished his seven-year tenure as ICAC this month, told InDaily: “If Mr King wants to make a complaint about me or my office during that time, he ought to make the complaint to the reviewer.”

“There’s a procedure for making complaints in the manner in which ICAC have conducted themselves, and that procedure is provided for in the ICAC Act.”

He said while former ICAC Reviewer Kevin Duggan QC had “reviewed all the warrants that were issued by me during the period in which he was reviewer” – warrants that King’s legal team had questioned – “he’s not presently the reviewer” and “that person has nothing to do with the prosecution of King”.

Lander said he had not reviewed the King investigation “since he pleaded guilty to the charges to which he pleaded”.

“We had no input into the prosecution itself,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General said: “Mr King’s request will be considered in due course.”

DPP Martin Hinton declined to comment.

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