ICAC hearing on Awabakal land deals encounters woman ‘created out of thin air’

QUESTIONED: Lawyer Despina Bakis leaves the ICAC inquiry this week. Picture: Fairfax Media
QUESTIONED: Lawyer Despina Bakis leaves the ICAC inquiry this week. Picture: Fairfax Media

Daphne Regina Diomedes, of Rose Bay, was a woman in a hurry: between 2014 and 2015 she racked up a string of fines for speeding and illegal parking around Sydney's inner west.

But an ICAC inquiry has heard Ms Diomedes was a fictitious person "created out of thin air".

Her driver's licence and European passport both bore the photograph of lawyer Despina Bakis, the long time partner of disgraced former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias.

The Herald can publish the alias after a failed bid to suppress the evidence, on the grounds it could interfere with a separate court case in which Mr Petroulias is alleged to have been in possession of identification information with the intention of committing fraud.

Ms Bakis described her actions at a Hobart motor registry in 2013 as "silly", after forms were lodged listing her name as Daphne Diomedes and her country of origin as Slovenia.

But she alleged she had handed over the fake license to Mr Petroulias "within days", insisting he was responsible for using the alias to move money between bank accounts he controlled.

"At the time I was worried about my safety and I was considering changing my name," Ms Bakis told the inquiry.

"There'd been a lot of death threats, bikies and things, I mean it was stupid to do but ... I felt like that was the first step in creating some anonymity behind me."

The counsel assisting the commission, Dr Nicholas Chen, SC, pointed out that Ms Bakis had continued to hold a driver's licence and work as a lawyer using her real name.

"You haven't tried to conceal in your day to day life, personal or otherwise, the name Despina Bakis at any stage have you?" Dr Chen asked.

PARTNER: Former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias.

PARTNER: Former assistant tax commissioner Nick Petroulias.

"That's right," Ms Bakis replied.

Ms Bakis denied she was responsible for a series of statutory declarations identifying Daphne Diomedes as the driver, when fines were issued to a car registered in her name.

Ms Bakis and Mr Petroulias were allegedly involved in deals to sell off up to $30 million of land belonging to the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

The ICAC is investigating whether the sales were a sham to benefit the pair, via a shelf company Mr Petroulias allegedly controlled called Gows Heat.

Ms Bakis became tearful as she was grilled about a series of bank transfers between "Diomedes Investments" and Gows Heat.

She told the inquiry she did not understand why money was also transferred back and forth between Gows Heat and a string of bank accounts set up by Mr Petroulias under various aliases, including Mr Peterson, Piers and Pearson.

Commissioner Peter Hall, QC, put it to Ms Bakis that the couple had lived together for years and Mr Petroulias must have discussed the transactions with her.

"No, he didn't. You'd be surprised," Ms Bakis said.

She rejected a suggestion by Dr Chen that shifting money across a "multitude of accounts" made it difficult to trace.

"Isn't it the same money going around and around two or three entities? It's not that hard," Ms Bakis responded.

Ms Bakis denied she benefited financially when $51,000 Gows Heat received through the land deals was used to pay off several of her "maxed out" credit cards.

Ms Bakis said Mr Petroulias had paid the cards off as a "loan" because he "felt sorry" for her.

"Mr Petroulias isn’t very generous with his money, trust me," Ms Bakis said. "We’re not like normal families. He does his thing, I do my thing."

Ms Bakis was accused by Dr Chen of being "deliberately evasive" and taking an "inordinate" amount of time to answer questions.

Commissioner Hall warned her that witnesses who stalled and were obstructive may not be regarded as credible.

"This is grossly unfair," Ms Bakis said. "You have put documents to every other witness and I'm sitting here blind with nothing."

Earlier, the inquiry heard allegations that Mr Petroulias signed one of the land deals on behalf of Johan "Jason" Latervere, a Gows director who was already dead when appointed to the role.

The name "J Latervere" also featured in the bank transactions.

When quizzed about the relationship, Ms Bakis said Mr Petroulias was "very fond" of Mr Latervere.

"He used to talk about Mr Latervere and his ... partner and he used to say they were really good company: 'you should meet them one day'. I never did," she said.