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Hanlon sought $250k for legal costs days before new prosecution revealed

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Former Renewal SA boss John Hanlon made a claim for the State Government to repay legal costs totalling more than $250,000 just days before prosecutors confirmed he would face fresh charges in the District Court, InDaily can reveal.

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Hanlon is facing a renewed legal bid to try him on charges of abuse of public office – despite the prosecution previously falling apart through lack of evidence – but a case against his fellow former executive Georgina Vasilevski will not proceed.

Hanlon’s lawyers were yesterday informed by deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Sandi McDonald SC that “the decision has been made to lay an ex-officio Information in the District Court charging your client with Abuse of public office with two counts of Dishonestly dealing with documents in the alternative”.

The charges relate to a trip Hanlon made to Berlin in 2017, while he was CEO of Renewal SA.

Previous charges relating to a separate work trip to Melbourne in the same year will not be pursued.

The case against Hanlon and Vasilevski dramatically collapsed in the Magistrates Court earlier this year when former Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan testified that he had signed off on Hanlon’s Berlin trip and was aware of it at the time.

Prosecutor Peter Longson then conceded to the court that his evidence “doesn’t go far” enough to prove that the travel was for personal – rather than work – purposes – prompting magistrate Simon Smart to throw the case out.

But Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told parliament within days that deputy DPP Sandi McDonald was considering further action, saying: “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.”

The new action came just a week after a letter dated August 31 was sent to the Crown Solicitor’s Office by lawyer Matthew Selley, acting for Hanlon, seeking compensation for legal costs incurred over the past three years.

The letter also revealed Hanlon was also the subject of an investigation by Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri over “suspected misconduct and maladministration in his capacity as Chief Executive of Renewal SA”, which was conducted concurrent to the ICAC inquiry – and which ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing.

“In March 2019, Mr Hanlon received correspondence from the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment notifying him that he was under investigation by her for suspected misconduct and maladministration in his capacity as Chief Executive of Renewal SA,” Selley wrote.

“The Commissioner delivered a brief of material to us and Mr Hanlon was afforded an opportunity to put submission to the Commissioner as to why he was not guilty of misconduct and ought not to be the subject of any disciplinary process… we prepared submissions for Mr Hanlon which were delivered to the Commissioner and considered by her and [then-minister] the Honourable Stephan Knoll MP.

“On July 15, 2019 we received notification from Mr Knoll MP that he was satisfied that Mr Hanlon was not guilty of any misconduct or maladministration in respect of the matters [Ranieri] was investigating.”

Selley writes that “in connection with the ICAC investigation, the Commissioner for Public Sector Employment investigation and the subsequent prosecution, Mr Hanlon incurred and has paid professional fees and disbursements, including counsel fees to this firm, totalling $245,585.90 plus GST”.

“Mr Hanlon now seeks reimbursement for these legal expenses in accordance with Treasurer’s Instruction ex gratia payments and Legal Bulletin 5,” he said, arguing Hanlon “was at all material times a Government employee and Government board appointee as defined in Legal Bulletin 5”.

“He incurred costs associated with his engagement of an independent legal practitioner for the purposes of a relevant criminal proceeding and a relevant ICAC investigation as defined in the legal bulletin,” Selley wrote.

“We submit that Mr Hanlon qualifies for reimbursement because he was the subject of a relevant ICAC investigation and criminal proceedings arising out of the performance of his duties.

“It would not have been appropriate for Mr Hanlon to have been represented by the Crown Solicitor and no material adverse finding has been made against him, nor has any material dereliction of duty been revealed.

“We submit that in all the circumstances it was reasonable for Mr Hanlon to brief Queen’s Counsel in the circumstances – he was facing 19 charges including two major indictable offences and the prospect of jail time if substantiated.”

While the DPP will now push on with a new bid to prosecute Hanlon, Vasilevski’s legal ordeal is over.

Her lawyer was yesterday informed in writing from the DPP’s office that its review had been completed and “the decision has been made that there will not be an ex officio information laid in relation to Ms Vasilevski”.

Hanlon told InDaily his lawyers would immediately move to have the prosecution permanently stayed.

He said the ex officio was a “rarely used” action “which allows them to put aside the magistrate’s ruling and lay charges before the district court”.

“We think they’re just running the same case… I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

“I could sit here and say I’m absolutely shocked, but after dealing with the ICAC and DPP for three years now, I’m hardly surprised… because I’ve just watched them in action for so long.

“I know I haven’t done anything wrong – the [former] minister’s already said he gave me approval to go.”

He said once he had settled his costs claim he had intended to claim damages against the state government – but that the fresh charges would now push the matter beyond next year’s state election.

Hanlon said the Berlin trip was not even part of the initial ICAC investigation that saw his office raided in late 2018, but that none of the initial claims against him was borne out.

However, it later formed part of the ongoing inquiry, with ICAC investigators even dispatched to Germany in a bid to retrace his steps.

He said “the worst case” of what was alleged would be wrongly claiming “whatever the cost of the airfares are”.

“And how any millions have they spent on this?” he said.

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