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REVEALED: Chapman was ICAC whistleblower | New ‘conflict of interest’ claims

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Former Attorney-General Vickie Chapman provided information to the state’s ICAC that helped prompt an investigation into senior Renewal SA bureaucrats John Hanlon and Georgina Vasilevski, it can now be revealed for the first time.

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Questions about the role played by the then-Deputy Premier were raised in parliament for several months last year, with former Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander confirming under privilege that Chapman was an informant in the matter that saw Hanlon, then chief executive of the urban renewal authority, and senior executive Georgina Vasilevski stood down, investigated and later charged.

InDaily has been unable to report any references to the matter – despite them being protected by parliamentary privilege – on legal advice because of the way the original ICAC legislation was framed.

But the amended laws that came into effect late last year have prompted fresh advice that “a person who has made a complaint or report under the Act” can be identified, if it is subject to parliamentary privilege.

The case against both executives collapsed last year in the Adelaide Magistrates Court, when prosecutor Peter Longson conceded the DPP’s office did not have sufficient evidence to prove their guilt.

But the DPP later filed an ‘ex officio’ action in the District Court, seeking to pursue charges against Hanlon alone, of abuse of public office and dishonestly dealing with documents, relating to a 2017 work trip to Berlin.

In a parliamentary committee last year, Lander was asked whether Chapman had made “a complaint to ICAC about Mr Hanlon and Ms Vasilevski on behalf of disgruntled whistleblowers” in 2018 – a claim previously aired in a speech by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo.

“She provided information to OPI,” Lander replied.

“I don’t think she provided a complaint. She passed on information from a constituent.”

He suggested the Attorney was not the first person to refer the matter to his office, saying “she was not the initial complainant”.

The revelation is significant because Chapman was later investigated – though no charges were laid – for her own potential breach of the ICAC Act, when she issued a public statement appearing to connect Hanlon’s mysterious absence from his Renewal SA role with the ICAC.

“In respect of questions about Renewal SA Executives that the Government has received from both the media and the Opposition, I confirm that I have enquired of the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Mr Bruce Lander QC, as to whether there is any further information that can be made available on this matter,” her statement said at the time.

“He confirmed that there is not.

“The Commissioner at this stage will not be making a public statement on the matter.”

Lander later authorised media to publish Chapman’s statement but rebuked her for making it, saying: “The ICAC Act is designed in such a way that a person [who is] the subject of a corruption investigation ought not suffer reputational harm until such time the person is charged.”

“The very purpose of an investigation is to collect evidence,” he said at the time.

“The fact of an investigation is not proof that corruption has occurred. Corruption investigations must be conducted in private. I think that is appropriate.”

He also revealed at the time that his “recollection” of his conversation with Chapman was that “any statement made by the Attorney would not include reference to the ICAC and that the Attorney would say publicly that neither she nor the government could comment”.

In parliament last year Chapman declined to respond directly when asked by Labor frontbencher Tom Koutsantonis if she made 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, and did she inform SAPOL investigators [investigating her later public statement] that she had made a referral”.

“These matters were all canvassed back in 2018 and there was complete exoneration in relation to the scurrilous allegations,” Chapman said at the time.

“In relation to any allegation relating to the Office for Public Integrity, it would be totally improper for me to even provide that information.”

Chapman also told parliament in June last year – after the Magistrates Court prosecution collapsed – that 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.”

Hanlon made a claim for the State Government to repay legal costs totalling more than $250,000 just days before prosecutors eventually confirmed he would face fresh charges in the District Court.

Hanlon’s case continued this week, with the former CEO seeking – through his lawyer David Edwardson QC – to subpoena correspondence between Chapman’s office and that of the DPP, submitting her role was central to his application to stay the prosecution.

Edwardson suggested Chapman had a potential conflict in seeking a briefing on whether further charges could be laid.

It comes just weeks after an Ombudsman’s report found she did not have a real or perceived conflict of interest in relation to an unrelated decision to veto a $40 million port on her native Kangaroo Island, an issue over which she had already received a parliamentary censure.

Edwardson argued this week that Chapman’s statement in parliament implied “she clearly wanted to know” whether further charges would be laid.

“We say the irresistible inference was that the Attorney’s preference was for the director to lay an ex officio information against the defendant,” he said.

“The former Attorney was influential in the decision to lay the ex officio indictment, and that as a consequence the laying of the ex officio information was an abuse of process of this court,” he said.

“The Attorney is not getting legal advice as to whether or not an ex officio information should be laid – that’s a determination that’s made independently of the Attorney.

“The Attorney has expressly disavowed the notion that there was any direction, for example Nemer-style [a 2003 case in which then-acting-AG Paul Holloway directed the DPP to appeal a sentence] to the director to perform a particular task…

“But she clearly wanted to know whether an ex officio information was likely to be laid.”

Edwardson said “amongst many reasons… we say that of itself should have put her in a position where she shouldn’t directly have engaged in the way that she did”.

“We go on to say the evidence is such as to give rise to more than a reasonable inference that the former Attorney, whether directly or indirectly, had prior knowledge if not involvement in the decision to lay the ex officio information, and that the former Attorney had a conflict of interest in so doing, given that she had been responsible for the original complaint about the defendant Hanlon to the Office of Public Integrity.”

He added that she had further “impermissibly exposed the defendant Hanlon as [being] subject to the ICAC investigation” and “effectively outed him” with her public statement in 2018, while “her department was in receipt of a substantial claim for reimbursement of legal costs”.

Hanlon is pushing for a permanent stay of proceedings to be granted, with that case to be argued next month.

“This is plainly a complex matter – it’s got a complex history,” Edwardson said.

“The relevant participants and the timing and decision-making process… are all intertwined and will necessarily give rise to a series of arguments as to why we say the extreme remedy of a permanent stay is warranted in this case.”

But judge Tim Heffernan questioned the suggestion that Chapman’s request for a briefing implied that she wanted further action taken, noting there were “any number of proper reasons why an Attorney-General might want to know answer to that question”.

“It was a matter of high public interest, it was recently in the media and an Attorney-General might think ‘I could be asked questions in parliament about this’ – and, lo and behold, it happened,” he said.

Heffernan suggested “one of those legitimate reasons might be a desire to know if there was a direct impact on a decision to make an ex gratia payment for the [prior collapse of the] criminal aspect of the proceedings”.

“I’m not saying I’m drawing that inference,” he added.

Prosecutor Ryan Williams said the “context in which those questions were asked” related instead to questions around “whether there had been a direction given under DPP act [and] whether there would be some review of ICAC processes” – with the Act subsequently amended substantially.

Williams conceded the DPP’s office “now has recast the particulars and has proceeded on a similar but slightly different formulation” of the original charge – arguing there was now no onus on the prosecution to prove that Hanlon did no Renewal SA work while on the taxpayer-funded trip.

However he said any suggestion that the original prosecutor Longson “went rogue and made a submission without instructions” was “not the position the Director is taking on this application”.

“It is not the prosecution’s case in this court that no work  at all having been done is essential for the proof of the charge,” he said.

“There will be an argument in due course about the shifting of the goal-posts [but] that’s not a question for today.”

Edwardson countered that the question of “recasting” the charge was “important because it’s the first time there has been a suggestion that the Director has – by, we say, sleight of hand – directly disavowed the notion that they have to prove that my client never intended to do Renewal SA work when he travelled overseas”.

He says this “recasting is really quite frankly, we say, disingenuous”.

“It’s on the cards in our submission that this subpoena will uncover and unravel precisely those issues which we’re entitled to agitate for whatever category we say is available to us on the notion of a permanent stay,” he said.

Asked for comment by InDaily today on whether she referred information on the matter to ICAC and whether her subsequent involvement constituted a potential conflict of interest, Chapman said: “That’s a novel interpretation, even for you… this is a matter for the DPP, as you well know.”

The Bragg MP is retiring this month and made a farewell address to parliament yesterday.

Heffernan will make a ruling on the subpoena next week.

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