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ICAC commissioner Megan Latham hits back at criticism

Date

Sean Nicholls

Defensive: ICAC commissioner Megan Latham.

Defensive: ICAC commissioner Megan Latham.

The commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, Megan Latham, has defended the number of prosecutions flowing from its investigations following the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

On Thursday, the former attorney-general Greg Smith – who now chairs the NSW parliamentary oversight committee on the ICAC – announced the inquiry will examine whether the ICAC's "processes" can be improved to ensure prosecutions go ahead.

The decision followed recent comments by corrupt former minister Eddie Obeid that the chances of him being criminally prosecuted were “1 per cent”.

In an extraordinary statement on Friday, Commissioner Latham noted that “a public perception may have developed that prosecutions are unlikely to result from ICAC investigations and that significant sentences are unlikely to be imposed if prosecutions do result''.

However, she pointed out that on Thursday two people, Glen Lapham and Jacqueline Verdeyen, had been sentenced to 15 months each following an ICAC investigation into council employees accepting kickbacks from suppliers.

Commissioner Latham also noted the former Sydney Ferries chief executive Geoff Smith – who ICAC found acted corruptly by misusing his corporate credit card for personal benefit – was facing two years' imprisonment.

In addition, she said there are currently 22 people appearing before the courts as a result of ICAC’s recommendations to the NSW director of public prosecutions.

“In the last 30 months, in addition to the three specific cases referred to above, 32 people have pleaded guilty or been found guilty of charges arising from ICAC investigations,” Commissioner Latham said.

“Of those 32 people, four people have been sentenced to full-time imprisonment, five people have been sentenced to imprisonment to be served by way of home detention, and eight people have been sentenced to imprisonment but had the execution of that sentence suspended on condition they enter into a good behaviour bond.”

Commissioner Latham said there was some confusion about the ICAC’s role in securing prosecutions and stressed the commission “does not conduct prosecutions, but refers matters to the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for consideration of prosecution action''.

She said the commission is revising how information about prosecutions is presented on its website and that it would be make a submission to the inquiry

The terms of reference for the inquiry include whether the commission's "processes" can be improved to ensure prosecutions go ahead.

It will also focus on whether the ICAC's functions require amending "to prioritise the assembling of admissible evidence for criminal prosecution" and whether new criminal offences should be created "that capture corrupt conduct".

Because the ICAC can compel witnesses to give evidence, they are given the opportunity to take a "section 38" objection. This means their testimony cannot be used against them in criminal proceedings, except for those brought for lying to the ICAC.

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