Fireworks as former partners clash at ICAC

Richard Green

Richard Green

A member of an Aboriginal land council has admitted to making a threat to "punch the face in" of disgraced former tax official Nick Petroulias, branding his alleged former business associate a "liar" and a "fraudster" at a corruption inquiry on Monday. 

Richard Green, the former deputy chair of the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council, is accused of working with Mr Petroulias to broker the sale of up to $30 million of Aboriginal land across Newcastle.  But there were fireworks as the pair came face to face at an ICAC inquiry on Monday, as the watchdog investigates whether the deals were a sham they both profited from. 

Mr Petroulias told Commissioner Peter Hall QC that he had "substantial" voice recordings of Mr Green from a recent meeting that showed he had been "deceiving" the watchdog in his testimony.

Mr Green has told the inquiry that even though his signature appeared on the sales agreements, he had not read them and did not understand their contents. 

"What I want to push very hard, with the aid of the recordings, is that he did know and not only that, that he's actively lying to this commission," Mr Petroulias said. 

"You're a liar," Mr Green interjected. "I was going to punch your face in, that's what I told you ... you're a fraudster." 

Commissioner Hall said he would have to consider the legality of the recording before it could be used in cross examination. The hearing also saw Commissioner Hall liken a bank account operated by Mr Petroulias' partner to a "washing machine", with roughly $3.7 million deposited and a similar amount withdrawn across hundreds of transactions.

Lawyer Despina Bakis, who has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Mr Petroulias for about 20 years, said the "paymaster" account was for her firm to pay expenses for other parties. But she was unable to explain several large transactions, including around $90,000 deposited by a company linked to Mr Petroulias.  

"It's the same money going around and around I suspect," Ms Bakis said. 

Commissioner Hall put it to her that there might be "subterfuge" involved if Mr Petroulias was funneling funds through company accounts into the law firm's account. "I can assure you Commissioner, that's not it," she said. "That's the dumbest place to try and hide money." 

She said the way the account worked was "money goes in, money goes out". 

"Sounds like a washing machine to me," Commissioner Hall said. Ms Bakis responded: "Well that's one way to look at it, yeah.”

Ms Bakis was the land council's lawyer when a series of agreements were made to sell its land to developers.  She was asked why she did not disclose Mr Petroulias' criminal history to the full board.  In the 2000s, Mr Petroulias was jailed for corrupt conduct during his stint as assistant tax commissioner.  "It was an oversight," she said. "I told [board members] Debbie and Richard, I assumed they would go and tell the rest of the board."