Craig Thomson rubbishes fraud case outside court
Independent MP Craig Thomson accuses police of being unable to produce witnesses to support 154 fraud charges against him.PT0M0S 620 349
With his wife Zoe by his side, former federal Labor MP Craig Thomson has this morning faced a Melbourne court to be formally charged with 154 fraud offences, including allegations he used his union credit card to pay for prostitutes.
Thomson, 48, who is now sitting as an independent in Parliament, appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court for a brief filing hearing on the charges.
Craig Thomson, accompanied by his wife, arrives to face court in Melbourne. Photo: Mal Fairclough
He was arrested last Thursday at his NSW Central Coast office and charged with fraud and theft offences relating to the alleged misuse of entitlements when he was national secretary of the Health Services Union.
Part of his bail conditions included not contacting any prostitutes he is alleged to have engaged for sexual services.
Thomson arrived at the Melbourne courthouse just before 9am and told the waiting media his priority was to ''get this issue on and over with as quickly as possible to clear my name''.
His case was called before magistrate Donna Bakos in courtroom 1 at 10.24am.
Defence lawyer Bill Dwyer told the court Thomson was concerned at the way he had been brought to the court.
Mr Dwyer said Thomson had been ordered to appear in Melbourne at short notice and ''he's anxious to get these matters resolved''.
Mr Dwyer asked the court for a witness list to be provided to his client but the prosecution said it was not available.
Outside court after the hearing, Thomson stood with his wife in front of a large media pack and criticised the police handling of the case.
‘‘You’d think it was the AFL grand final with all you guys here,’’ Thomson said.
‘‘Look, what was disappointing about today was of course it became clear that not only last Thursday was wrongly done by the police but after 18 months in relation to investigating this matter ... they still don’t even have witnesses that they for able to produce for us.
‘‘We’re trying to get on with this, to get it on as quickly as we can.
‘‘It wasn’t encouraging that the police aren’t even ready after all this time.
‘‘We’ll get on with it as quickly as I can to clear my name.’’
Earlier during the hearing, Ms Bakos ordered Thomson to appear again on May 22 for a committal mention.
A 20-volume police brief of evidence was expected to be sent to Thomson's legal team by April 17.
The magistrate varied Thomson's bail to include a provision that he not contact any employees of a number of businesses, including one which operated the Touch of Class brothel in Sydney.
The charges against Thomson followed an 18-month Victoria Police fraud investigation into the finances of the Health Services Union.
Thomson, the member for Dobell who was suspended from the Labor Party early last year over the allegations, married Zoe Arnold, a former radio newsreader and now media adviser, in January 2011.
The couple live in Bateau Bay and has two children, Matilda, 3, and Adelaide, 17 months.
They met when Thomson was a union boss and Ms Arnold was working as a media adviser to former NSW health minister Reba Meagher.
Thomson is accused of improperly using Health Services Union funds to spend on prostitutes, air travel, entertainment and cash withdrawals in excess of $100,000.
He was the union's national secretary from 2002 until his election to federal parliament in December 2007.
Court documents state that the alleged offences occurred between February 2003 and April 2008.
One charge claims that he used a Mastercard to avoid paying a debt of $330 to Sydney escort service Aboutoun Catering for sexual services in February 2003.
Thomson is still being investigated by NSW police in relation to Strike Force Carnarvon, looking into alleged fraud in the NSW branch of the HSU.
During Wednesday's 15-minute hearing, Mr Dwyer said there were claims that Thomson had tried to avoid being charged by summons and had not made himself available to police.
He said this was not accepted by his client and ‘‘there was never any evasion’’.
Thomson was always available and the police knew where he was, the defence lawyer said.
Ms Bakos said there was no suggestion Thomson was a flight risk or had evaded appearing in court on the charges.
The magistrate said she was not sure why Mr Dwyer had aired his concerns in her courtroom and what they were meant to achieve.
The 154 charges against Thomson include allegations he used HSU credit cards to pay for in-house R-rated pornographic movies at hotels; cigarettes; food and drinks; flights; car hire; petrol; taxis; valet parking; hotel rooms; and sexual services from companies trading as Boardroom Escorts, Tiffany’s Girls and A Touch of Class.
In an interview with Fairfax Media on Monday, Thomson said he had never used prostitutes and was worried his legal fees to fight the case could cost him his house.
When the HSU allegations against Thomson first surfaced in 2009, Ms Arnold was pregnant with their first child.
She said at the time she stood by Thomson ''100 per cent''.
Writing in the Australian Women's Weekly last year, Ms Arnold said: ''A lot of people have made their minds up about my husband. They see him as a philanderer, a man who's loose with his money and his morals. I don't know that man.
''I love my husband. This will all end one day and then we will still have each other.''