Bell, who is already facing charges of misappropriating public funds dating back to before he entered parliament, was yesterday hit with fresh, unrelated charges of deceit.
He faces 52 counts, which are believed to be related to an ICAC investigation into the use of the controversial country members allowance.
Bell earlier this year repaid more than $42,000 in claimed entitlements, citing “an abundance of caution”.
He said yesterday that “in reference to the country members allowance, I have co-operated with the investigation and have done so knowing that I have always acted honestly”.
In a further statement this morning, the Mount Gambier MP went on the attack, saying he found it “extremely disheartening that these accusations are being made only three months out from the next state election”.
“It leaves me wondering if the [earlier] accusations made six months prior to the 2018 election are part of a similar attack on my reputation and character,” he said.
Bell left the Liberal fold when the earlier charges were laid, also following an ICAC investigation.
A spokesperson for Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone said today that “as a result of recent changes to the [ICAC Act], the Commission cannot now make public statements except in the very narrow circumstances prescribed”.
They referred InDaily to an earlier public statement by Vanstone in September that “provides some further context which may assist”.
That statement noted that the ICAC had been investigating “several MPs” in relation to “potential misuse of the Country Members Allowance”, one of whom – Narungga MP Fraser Ellis “is presently before the courts”.
Following further investigations, “a brief of evidence relating to a second Member of Parliament was provided to the Director of Public Prosecutions” in May, while a third was provided later in the year.
“It is for the Director to determine whether there will be a prosecution [and] I understand that the Director continues to consider both these matters,” Vanstone said at the time.
Bell said in a statement that he was “aware that similar allegations have been levelled against a number of other country MPs, some of whom have since admitted to incorrectly claiming travel allowances”.
“It is not immediately clear to me why a decision has been made to criminally charge me and not others, or why the authorities have waited until now to serve these charges upon me,” he said.
“During one of the most trying times of our lives, I have remained committed to helping our community get the support and assistance they need throughout this pandemic.
“As we are only three months out from an election, my sole priority is focusing on the needs of my community, as I have done over the last eight years.
“At the next election it will be our community that determine the member for Mount Gambier – not political opponents or those with a grudge to bear.”
Bell’s trial on his earlier charges has been delayed until next year, after he was given leave to appeal to the High Court – to be heard in February – against the ICAC’s investigation processes.
He insists he has “every intention of standing at the 2022 election and I want to assure my community they can have absolute trust in my words and actions as their state representative”.
Premier Steven Marshall today declined to comment, saying he had “no details” on the matter and noting Bell was last a member of the Liberal Party “five years ago”.
Asked if he was attempting to distance the Liberal Government from Bell, Marshall said: “I get along with all members of the SA parliament, but I can’t comment… and it’s difficult to be drawn on it.”
Liberal Ben Hood is running against Bell in his seat of Mount Gambier.
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