Former parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper has been summonsed to face court next month for alleged breaches of federal criminal laws, further destablising Julia Gillard's minority government as it heads to the polls later this year.
The Australian Federal Police have not confirmed what the summons is about, but it it is understood it relates to Mr Slipper’s alleged misuse of travel entitlement and that the alleged offences carry a maximum five year jail term.
The Queensland MP is due to appear in the Canberra Magistrates Court on February 15, where he can expect to be formally charged.
The police statement said it was "in relation to three offences of Dishonestly Causing a Risk of a Loss to the Commonwealth pursuant to section 135.1(5) Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)."
If a federal MP is found guilty of a criminal offence that carries a jail term of one year or more, they are disqualified from parliament.
This could place the government’s slim majority under pressure on contentious pieces of legislation, but would not likely see it fall.
Labor currently has about 76 votes to the Coalition’s 74 (if Green Adam Bandt, independents Craig Thomson, Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor are counted with Labor and Bob Katter, Tony Crook and Peter Slipper are counted with the Opposition).
Section 135.1 (5) carries penalty of a maximum five years in prison, however Fairfax Media understands that even if found guilty, Mr Slipper is very unlikely to face the maximum penalty.
It is also unlikely the case would be resolved before next federal election. Mr Slipper stood aside as Speaker last April following accusations by his staffer James Ashby that he had misused taxi dockets, as well as separate claims he had sexually harassed Mr Ashby.
At the time, Mr Slipper said that the "so-called criminal allegation" of Cabcharge rorts was a "complete fabrication."
In May, Mr Ashby dropped the travel rorts claims to avoid any delay in the court's consideration of his civil claim of sexual harassment and discrimination.
But by then, the AFP had launched an investigation into Mr Slipper’s travel use, referring material from the matter to the the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in July.
On Monday, a government source downplayed the news of the summons, saying the offences mentioned by the AFP did not relate to Mr Ashby’s claims.
It is understood they relate to three Comcar trips in 2010, in which Mr Slipper - who was then a Coalition MP - travelled beyond the allowed Canberra region. The trips are understood amount to about $900.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said Mr Slipper was entitled to the presumption of innocence, and prejudicial comment had to be avoided to ensure he got a fair trial.
Last month, the Federal Court threw out Mr Ashby's sexual harassment claim. In a scathing judgment, Justice Steve Rares found that the case was an "abuse of process".
Fairfax media has contacted Mr Slipper and the Coalition for comment.