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'Unacceptable conduct': DPP under fire over Renewal SA case

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A state MP has launched a stinging attack on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, accusing it of “unacceptable conduct” over a failed case against two former top Renewal SA bureaucrats, and saying ongoing delays in resolving the matter could amount to “a gross abuse of process”.

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It comes as the agency’s former CEO John Hanlon, who remains under a legal cloud with the DPP yet to confirm whether it will pursue further action against him and his fellow former executive Georgina Vasilevski, told parliament of his “shock” and “devastation” over the ICAC investigation that saw him charged with abuse of public office.

Those charges, relating to an allegation he claimed travel expenses for private purposes, were withdrawn in June after prosecutors conceded they didn’t have enough evidence to prove their case.

But the DPP has refused to rule out pursuing the matter in a higher court, with Martin Hinton QC telling InDaily in June: “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.”

It’s understood Hinton has declared a conflict in the matter, having previously worked with Hanlon, and the process is being reviewing by his deputy Sandi McDonald SC.

Hanlon and Vasilevski were today summonsed to front a parliamentary committee established to examine “Damage, Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations” – with Vasilevski giving evidence in camera on legal advice, given the threat of a further prosecution process.

Hanlon spoke about the ongoing personal toll of the ordeal, but declined to answer questions specific to the case for the same reason.

This prompted committee chair, SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo, to tell parliament: “I have been somewhat disturbed by the course the matter involving Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski has been taking.”

“They initially agreed to appear before the committee last month to be able to put on record – for the first time – their account of the maelstrom they found themselves in when they were arrested and charged by ICAC more than three years ago,” he said.

“They then pulled out at the last moment on legal advice – and because the office of the DPP was still considering the astonishing and somewhat unprecedented step of pursuing an ex-officio to a higher court – even though at their last Magistrates Court committal appearance, prosecutors acknowledged the evidence was insufficient to establish the charges.

“This is shocking to say the least.”

Pangallo questioned “how millions of dollars of taxpayers funds can be spent [by ICAC] in the pursuit of these senior and trusted public servants who were simply doing their jobs”.

“This sorry saga has dragged on for the best part of three years and it has cost both Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski dearly, financially as well as their mental wellbeing,” he said.

“Then for the DPP to front court with nothing to show for it after all these years is unacceptable conduct and the DPP needs to fully explain how it could have got to this point…

“There is something seriously amiss when the DPP cannot get its act together in a timely fashion for such a serious matter [and] there may be a case to argue this is becoming a gross abuse of process.”

He said the state government “has an obligation to conduct itself as a model litigant”.

“Justice delayed is justice denied – and yet it continues,” he said.

InDaily sought comment from the DPP, whose office said he was “not aware of the comments made by Mr Pangallo MLC to which you refer”.

“As and when he is able to read the contents of the transcript in full a determination will be made as to whether to respond,” his office said, confirming “a decision in relation to the [ex officio] matter remains pending”.

Pangallo accused Attorney-General Vickie Chapman of a “clear conflict” in the matter, making further claims under parliamentary privilege that InDaily cannot report on legal advice.

InDaily has sought a response from the Attorney-General, whose office said she was unable to comment given it was an ICAC matter and subject to potential further legal action.

Hanlon told the committee he had a “long history in public service for the state” and was “in discussions with the Premier and others” about renewing his $420,000 contract when ICAC launched its investigation.

His tenure was subsequently not renewed.

“The damage to my reputation is enormous,” he said of the drawn-out inquiry.

“We’ve suffered huge damage to our reputations, and financially it’s been incredibly draining – there’s no way you could prepare yourself for the loss of income in that manner.”

He said it “has been and still is” taxing on his mental health.

“On 18 June we thought we had been cleared – and have – but to have this [ex officio action] hanging over you with no time frame on it is exceptionally difficult, without knowing what you’re actually fighting against – or if you’re actually fighting,” he said.

He said someone of his age and career background “should be able to think you could get work and should be able to sit on boards”, but he has been unable to do so.

“The impact of it has been horrendous – to destroy your reputation – it’s caused a huge amount of damage,” he said.

“It has been a shock to me… I’ve never ever been in any sort of trouble, never had anything that anyone could ever question my conduct or reputation – I’ve never been corrupt or done anything I thought was inappropriate.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever wasted government funds on anything.

“I’m devastated… I know what’s been said behind my back over the last three years, and when your offices get raided by ICAC everyone – everyone – assumes you’ve done something exceptionally wrong.

“People will naturally think ‘this guy’s taking kickbacks, this guy’s given a contract to someone they shouldn’t have given a contract to’, they think there’s some improper relationship that’s occurred or whatever they might think – it’s incredibly damaging.”

He said during the inquiry he “couldn’t walk into a public place” and because of the onerous secrecy provisions of the ICAC was unable to talk to friends and former colleagues about his situation.

“You’re warned constantly by ICAC that you cannot speak about this matter, even to defend yourself,” he said.

“There’s hardly a member of parliament that wants to speak to you once you’re involved in an ICAC investigation… I had a number of connections in parliament – up to Premier level – but they’ve dried up completely.

“No-one wants to talk to you.”

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