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DPP 'considering' pushing on with Renewal SA prosecution as Chapman denies conflict

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Attorney-General Vickie Chapman says the Director of Public Prosecutions could still pursue a case against two former top Renewal SA executives – despite prosecutors conceding last week they didn’t have enough evidence to proceed – amid questions in parliament about whether she referred an initial allegation to ICAC, sparking the investigation.

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The cases against former Renewal SA boss John Hanlon and senior executive Georgina Vasilevski collapsed last Friday, when prosecutors told the Magistrates Court they did not have enough evidence to prove alleged inappropriate travel claims by the pair were for personal, rather than work, purposes.

Asked about the issue in parliament yesterday, Chapman said she had sought a briefing from the DPP “as to what action he is proposing in relation to this matter”.

“The fact that a matter may have concluded in the Magistrates Court doesn’t prohibit the DPP – independent as the DPP is – from taking some other action in another court,” Chapman told parliament.

“So they are matters which, I am advised, at this point he is considering.”

InDaily has sought clarification from DPP Martin Hinton QC as to whether further action is being considered, with the director saying in a statement: “A finding of no case to answer at the conclusion of committal proceedings does not prevent the DPP from filing an ex officio Information in the superior courts and proceeding with the prosecution.”

“Wherever no case to answer is found, the [Office of the] DPP always considers whether, notwithstanding, the matter should proceed by way of an ex officio information,” he said.

“That process is currently underway.”

The Attorney-General told parliament she had made “an inquiry”, via her department’s chief executive Caroline Mealor, seeking a briefing, “but I am aware that the matter is under consideration” by the DPP.

The Renewal SA pair were charged early last year, 18 months after being stood down from their high-flying government roles with no public explanation.

The charges followed an ICAC inquiry under former Commissioner Bruce Lander, who today declined to comment on the cases’ collapse when contacted by InDaily.

“I don’t think there’s anything I can say – I’m not in the office [any more],” he said.

Chapman had herself faced scrutiny over the case when, in September 2018, she made a public statement linking the executives’ departures to ICAC.

It prompted a police investigation into whether she had herself breached the strict secrecy provisions of the ICAC Act, but no charges were laid.

But under parliamentary privilege yesterday, Labor frontbencher Tom Koutsantonis asked Chapman if she had “made a complaint to the Office for Public Integrity regarding the alleged conduct of Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski at Renewal SA that was [later] the subject of an ICAC investigation”.

Chapman replied that “these matters were all canvassed back in 2018 and there was complete exoneration in relation to the scurrilous allegations by [Koutsantonis], and I have nothing further to add”.

Koutsantonis then asked again: “Did the Attorney-General make a complaint to the Office for Public Integrity regarding the alleged conduct of Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski at Renewal SA that was the subject of an ICAC investigation?”

Chapman responded by suggesting she would be precluded from identifying herself or anyone else as a complainant under Section 56 of the ICAC Act.

“I make it absolutely clear… that in relation to any allegation relating to the Office for Public Integrity, it would be totally improper for me to even provide that information,” she said.

Koutsantonis later made a further allegation against Chapman, under privilege, in a speech to parliament, which InDaily is unable to publish under legal advice.

In a statement to InDaily, Chapman said Koutsantonis had “no credibility on the issue given his conduct since September 2018”.

“Notwithstanding his current allegations, I am satisfied that there is no conflict of interest on my part in regards to this matter,” she said.

A spokesperson for her Department said that “as the State’s Chief Law Officer, with oversight of both the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and South Australia’s criminal laws, the Attorney-General – through the Chief Executive – will often seek briefings from the Office of the DPP on the outcomes of prosecutions”.

“This is common practice and, as an independent statutory officer, the DPP and his office ultimately determine what material is appropriate to include in any briefing provided to the Attorney,” they said.

Hinton told InDaily today: “From time to time the Attorney-General, in her capacity as first Law Officer of the State, requests a briefing on matters of significant public interest or legal importance.”

“There is nothing unusual about doing so,” he said.

“It does not take the form of an inquisition, rather it is a matter of a Minister with particular responsibility for the law being informed of matters relevant to the discharge of her duties.

“The independence of the DPP is not compromised.”

It’s understood Deputy Director Sandi McDonald SC has oversight of the cases after Hinton himself declared a conflict of interest in the matter, citing “close dealings with Mr Hanlon in relation to the Gillman matter”.

Asked about Chapman’s comments, Hanlon today told InDaily: “I was surprised to hear those comments made publicly by the Attorney-General.”

“I understand the need for a review – but more in the sense of how we ever managed to get to this situation in the first place, as opposed to the Attorney-General’s suggestion that there could be some kind of appeal of the decision that was made on Friday.”

He said her remarks had “put me under more stress and pressure”.

Asked about Koutsantonis’s questions, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone told InDaily in a statement: “The ICAC Act protects the identity of persons who make complaints or reports to the Office for Public Integrity [so] I have no comment.”

“It is not for me to comment on anything the Attorney-General may be considering about the matter,” she said, adding that any further legal action was “a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions”.

Vanstone also confirmed that she had changed the way her office refers matters to the DPP, saying: “Since my appointment I have had input into the way in which briefs of evidence are presented to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

Vanstone and Lander were seen having lunch together yesterday, with InDaily asking whether the Renewal SA matter was discussed.

An ICAC spokesperson said: “Bruce Lander joined Commissioner Vanstone and [outgoing deputy commissioner] Michael Riches for lunch yesterday to mark Mr Riches’ appointment as Northern Territory ICAC and his contribution to the South Australian ICAC, and to farewell him.”

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