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'I was treated like a drug dealer': Former bureaucrat's ICAC turmoil

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A former high-flying bureaucrat says she feels like “damaged goods” and has been “let down by the system” after a three-year legal battle defending a failed charge of falsely claiming just $1032.

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That $1032 claim could yet cost the state government a hundred times that amount on recouped legal costs alone, with former Renewal SA executive Georgina Vasilevski telling a parliamentary inquiry she believes she should be compensated for her hefty bills.

She said her office – and that of former agency boss John Hanlon, who is still facing charges stemming from the 2018 ICAC investigation – was raided in 2018 “like a scene from a crime TV show”.

“The way our offices were raided you would think we were paedophiles or drug dealers,” she said.

Hanlon and Vasilevski last month gave evidence to a parliamentary committee examining potential “Damage, Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations”, but the latter’s evidence was heard in camera.

However the committee today voted to make Vasilevski’s evidence public at her request, after the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions this week advised it would not pursue charges against her.

Its case had collapsed in court in June, when charges were withdrawn after prosecutors conceded they did not have sufficient evidence to prove their case.

The DPP has since moved to file an ex officio action against Hanlon who will contest charges in the District Court related to a 2017 trip he took to Berlin.

But the charges relating to interstate travel to Melbourne, of which Vasilevski was alleged to have falsely claimed $1032, will not be pursued.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege, Vasilevski said she had received no support during her period of legal limbo, when she was unable to work and ultimately made redundant in a departmental restructure days before her first court appearance.

“The system should be there to protect innocent people from vexatious complaints, and unfortunately the system has let me down,” she said.

“The system I had been so proud of, believed in and worked so hard for, left me high and dry and did not protect me…

“As a result of this failed investigation, I am perceived as damaged goods. At no fault of my own, I will struggle to gain employment in the SA government.”

It was like a scene from a crime TV show.. you’d think we were paedophiles or drug dealers

Vasilevski, Renewal SA’s former General Manager, People and Place Management, told the committee she “managed the functions of the Riverbank and strategic projects, place management, marketing and sales, communications and media, community and industry engagement, city growth, asset management and people and culture”.

“I have 20 years of experience working across the South Australian government and 10 years in key leadership roles,” she said.

“I have a strong record of achievement. I held pivotal roles in significant city programs and major public realm projects, which have transformed the city of Adelaide.

“I was leading some of the best projects in not only the state but the country, including Lot Fourteen.”

Then, on 25 September 2018, “ICAC officers raided my work office”.

“My office was searched and my phone, iPad, laptop and notebook were seized… it wasn’t discreet at all.”

She said a “vexatious complaint” had been “initiated against me by a small group of disgruntled [staff] ”.

“The ICAC investigation against me failed to properly and thoroughly consider the motivation and/or credibility of [those] staff,” she said.

“ICAC should have realised from the onset that the complaint… was about payback and the intent was always malicious.”

She said when she was suspended from work “I was at the peak of my career”.

“I then endured further embarrassment and distress caused by the publication of my name more than 12 months before I was charged… my reputation was completely shattered, when the ICAC Act says it shouldn’t be,” she said.

“I had media knocking on my door which had a terrible impact on my mental health and resulted in me seeking medical treatment.”

She said former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander should have considered “whether something less than an intensive criminal investigation was needed – especially where the asserted abuse of public office involved, in my case, $1,032”.

In an interview with InDaily before his tenure as Commissioner ended last year, Lander was critical of the delay in prosecuting Vasilevski’s case, saying: “In my view, it should be dealt with summarily by the courts… but it hasn’t been dealt with that way – that’s out of my hands.”

Vasilevski told parliament she had to “endure 16 months of isolation and delays caused by the continuation of the investigation of other matters”.

“This was oppressive to me… I really struggled with the whole process because I was isolated,” she said.

“As soon as the ‘ICAC’ word is used everyone seems to run for the hills and doesn’t want to know you. I could not speak to my staff. They couldn’t speak to me.”

Vasilevski (second from right) arriving at the committee hearing last month with her lawyer, alongside John Hanlon (left) and his wife.

She said she tried calling Commissioner for Public Sector Employment Erma Ranieri “for support” and was told “she couldn’t have contact with me”.

“I had no control over anything,” she said.

“What I thought would be a quick process took 16 months before I was charged. Had they charged me straight away, the matter could have been dealt with much quicker. Instead, I had to wait and this had a significant impact on my mental health.”

She said she had a panic attack in a holding cell at the city watch house where she was required to attend with her lawyer to be charged.

“I had to take my shoes off and was fingerprinted and had a mugshot – I don’t think this process was necessary, but it is my opinion that this was purely to humiliate and intimidate me,” she said.

She said she advised Renewal SA that she had been charged and was subsequently “terminated the night before my court appearance”, with the department at the time blaming a restructure.

“I was very distraught that my 20-year career in the public service ended, especially when I was already experiencing significant anxiety with having to appear in court,” Vasilevski said.

Of the case against her, she said “the evidence was incapable of proving that my attendance in Melbourne was undertaken for personal reasons unconnected to the complex work I was doing”.

“As a result of this failed investigation, I am perceived as damaged goods. At no fault of my own, I will struggle to gain employment in the SA government [and] I believe I won’t have a career in the Public Service ever again,” she said.

“I have lost my career and my reputation. My mental health has suffered.”

Vasilevski, who has since started her own consultancy, said she applied for several jobs interstate for which she was overqualified but did not even receive an interview.

“If someone is applying for a position, you Google them: you put my name into Google, and there is just so much stuff there now about the ICAC investigation, and that is one of the biggest things that I want addressed – I want my name properly cleared,” she said.

She said her legal costs exceeded $100,000, for which she believes there should be compensation.

“Definitely there should be compensation,” she said.

“The longer something goes, it’s harder to get your life back on track. It just went on for way too long.”

She will also pursue a separate damages claim.

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