ACT News

Ex-CFMEU organiser Halafihi Kivalu arrested after damning tapes played at commission

A former union organiser has been charged with blackmail after telling a royal commission he had accepted payments of $60,000 from a Canberra formwork contractor.

Halafihi Kivalu gives evidence at the royal commission into unions.
Halafihi Kivalu gives evidence at the royal commission into unions. 

Halafihi "Fihi" Kivalu was taken into police custody on Thursday and later charged with two counts of blackmail. He was expected to face the ACT Magistrates Court on Friday morning.

The commission also heard a recorded phone conversation between Mr Kivalu and his wife discussing using "Russians from Sydney" to collect $100,000 in unpaid kickbacks from the same contractor, Elias Taleb.

It was also revealed on Thursday that Kivalu, a former Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union organiser, had been the ALP Dickson-Morning sub-branch president at the time he was allegedly engaging in corrupt behaviour.

Mr Taleb had allegedly agreed to pay money in exchange for Mr Kivalu's help in obtaining work on ACT commercial building sites.


Mr Kivalu had denied he had solicited and pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in bribes only to have counsel assisting the royal commission, Jeremy Stoljar, play the tapes.

Mr Stoljar put it to Mr Kivalu they showed he was giving false evidence under oath.

Mr Kivalu denied this, saying the phone calls had been part of an elaborate ruse to "pay back" Mr Taleb who, he said, had been blackmailing him.

Shortly after finishing his testimony, Mr Kivalu was taken into custody at a legal office in Civic by Australian Federal Police.

Mr Taleb has said he paid Mr Kivalu $50,000 to win a contract to work on a Yarralumla building site.

Mr Kivalu did admit to receiving separate payments totalling $60,000 from Mr Taleb over a number of years but denied ever asking for money.

"I did accept Taleb's money [the $60,000]," he said. "It was never in my capacity as a union official ... He voluntarily gave me money hoping that I would help him with my contacts in the industry."

Mr Stoljar asked: "What did you do with it?"

"I played the pokies with it; I gambled," Mr Kivalu said.

Mr Kivalu said he had never told anyone at the CFMEU about the money he received from Mr Taleb.

The former organiser, who was expelled from the CFMEU on Tuesday, was also grilled over a $32,267 redundancy payment from the union. He said he had both resigned as an organiser for personal reasons on November 10, 2014, and been made redundant.

In one of the phone tapes, Mr Kivalu told his wife that Mr Taleb, who had agreed to work on a shed for him, needed more time to pay a $100,000 debt.

Mrs Kivalu said: "F--- the shed, he might not even do it properly."

In a second tape recording, made on June 6 this year, Mrs Kivalu said her son, Josh, had agreed to take over the Taleb debt.

Mrs Kivalu said: "I told Josh whoever does it, whether it is his Russian friends from Sydney, the Lebanese; I don't care who it is."

Mr Kivalu expressed concern his behaviour might be considered criminal: "He [Taleb] can, in court or in front of the union, say he doesn't owe me anything," he said.

Mrs Kivalu said the union had nothing to do with it: "This deal wasn't made with the union or anyone else. Oh, you are, you are such a thing, you're such an easy target for people."

Mr Kivalu defended himself. "What else can I do? Because I organised a crime and it comes back to bite us up in the arse? [What good is it] if I'm behind bars."

The commission also heard a tape recording of a phone conversation between Mr Kivalu and Mr Taleb on April 10 this year over the then $85,000 the contractor was being asked to pay in return for Mr Kivalu's assistance with obtaining work.

It indicated the arrangement with Mr Taleb was a longstanding one: "Elias, Elias... this is not new to us. We've been talking about this for f---ing years."

Mr Stoljar put it to Mr Kivalu that, despite earlier denials, he had demanded money from Mr Taleb for helping him secure one of the jobs.

Mr Kivalu replied: "Yeah, but that's all a lie. When my relationship with Elias went sour, he tried to blackmail me to my boss, Dean Hall [the ACT secretary of the CFMEU], so I decided to give back to Elias his own medicine."

John Agius, the lawyer for the CFMEU, cross-examined Mr Kivalu about his claim Mr Taleb had contacted Mr Hall.

Mr Kivalu said he understood Mr Taleb "came into the [CFMEU] office to see Dean Hall in regards to me. The only incident I know of, of the blackmail, is when my boss [Mr Hall] told me that Elias came to see him."

ACT Labor secretary Matt Byrne said Mr Kivalu's membership in the party had been suspended on Thursday night.

"The administrative committee determined to suspend the membership of Mr Kivalu. ACT Labor has no room for members who commit serious, illegal activities," Mr Byrne said.

"We respect the right of members to due process under the rule of law."

If convicted, Mr Kivalu could face expulsion from the party.

Mr Bryne said the CFMEU played an important role in representing Canberra workers and ensuring safety and employment rights on construction sites.

Earlier he said no ACT Legislative Assembly member or federal parliamentarian was a member of the Dickson Morning branch.