ICAC: Suspended Liberal MP Marie Ficarra denies sick dog claims a 'joke'

Suspended Liberal MP Marie Ficarra has denied she raised her miniature pet schnauzer in her evidence at a corruption inquiry as a "joke" or "distraction" from allegations she solicited an illegal donation from a property developer.

Ms Ficarra told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Thursday that her pet dog Leisel was at the forefront of her thoughts on the day she allegedly asked developer Tony Merhi to pay $5000 to a secret Liberal Party slush fund.

Counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, put it to Ms Ficarra on Friday that she knew "all about" the alleged slush fund, called Eightbyfive, and that it was "hatched" in the office of her colleague and former minister Chris Hartcher.

"You told Tony Merhi about Eightbyfive, didn't you? You knew that was a scam when you did it," Mr Watson said.

"Absolutely not," Ms Ficarra replied.

The ICAC has heard Ms Ficarra arranged to meet Mr Merhi at Cafe Saligna in the Cumberland State Forest at West Pennant Hills on March 17, 2011, "because it was better than sitting in the vet's". She told the commission on Thursday that she also wanted to buy Westringias, or coastal rosemary, from the nursery.


Ms Ficarra said hey had a "short cup of coffee" because she had to collect her dog Leisel, which was being treated across the other side of Sydney at Sylvania.

"I had a very sick dog. Acute thrombocytopenia [low platelet count] is life-threatening," Ms Ficarra said.

Mr Merhi has given evidence he was "duped" into paying an illegal donation and Ms Ficarra had recommended he retain Eightbyfive as a consultant. Property developers have been banned from making political donations since December 2009.

Mr Merhi's barrister, Peter Silver, accused Ms Ficarra of bringing up her dog as a diversion. 

"The reason that you have emphasised the sick dog aspect of your evidence is to distract this commission and to make a joke of what is a very serious sequence of events," he said.

"It wasn't a joke," Ms Ficarra insisted.

Later, she denied she had changed her evidence since a private interview with the commission, saying her evidence about "the dog" was the only significant change.

The ICAC is investigating allegations that Mr Hartcher and his central coast colleagues Chris Spence and Darren Webber funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal donations into Eightbyfive and used the money to bankroll the Liberal Party's successful state election campaign.

Ms Ficarra gave evidence on Friday that she knew Mr Merhi was a banned donor but he had mentioned that his friends might be able to donate to the campaign.

She said she gave him the name of the Young Liberals' Charles Perrottet because the group's flying squad needed financial support.

Ms Ficarra, the former parliamentary secretary to Premier Barry O'Farrell, said that Mr Perrottet passed on a "strange" account name for a $5000 payment from Mr Merhi called "Eightbyfive".

Mr Watson accused her of trying to "drag down" Mr Perrottet, a former adviser to Mr Hartcher and the brother of the new state finance minister Dominic Perrottet, because she was "caught in a lie".

"He's a man in his 20s, isn't he? You decided that you would drag Charles Perrottet's name down into the mud...to save your own skin didn't you?" Mr Watson pressed.

"Absolutely not. The truth prevails," Ms Ficarra said.

Mr Watson shot back: "Yes. I certainly hope so."

Earlier, the inquiry heard Ms Ficarra was Facebook friends with Tim Koelma, a former adviser to Mr Hartcher who is the alleged mastermind behind the Eightbyfive slush fund.

Ms Ficarra said on Thursday that she hardly knew Mr Koelma and he had to be pointed out to her once outside state Parliament on Macquarie Street.

Challenged about her evidence on Friday, she said staffers such as Mr Koelma were "faces that come and go, we don't speak to them".

The inquiry continues.