A corruption inquiry has heard that suspended Liberal MP Tim Owen was aware Nathan Tinkler's property development group helped to bankroll his election campaign, in breach of the NSW ban on developer donations.
Liberal identity Josh Hodges, Mr Owen's campaign co-ordinator, told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Friday that Mr Tinkler's company Buildev was among the developers who paid for him to work for three months on the campaign in 2011.
He agreed that this was a "scheme" to subvert laws banning property developers from making political donations.
Mr Hodges gave evidence that "fake" invoices had been sent to disguise the fact that he was being paid by developers.
The inquiry heard that Buildev discussed with Mr Hodges its plans for a billion-dollar coal loader at Mayfield in Newcastle.
Asked about the appropriateness of a property developer pitching a proposal to a politician's adviser while illegally supporting his campaign, Mr Hodges said Mr Owen was only a political candidate at this stage.
He added Buildev made donations to get "access" and "an ear" but not an "approval" for the project.
The inquiry heard that Mr Tinkler's company was slow to pay Mr Hodges' bill and Mr Owen was forced to intervene.
Mr Owen's campaign manager, Hugh Thomson, texted Mr Owen on July 28, 2011, four months after the state election, and asked him to call "DW" and "lean on him – it's been promised for months".
"Will do," Mr Owen replied.
Phone records tendered at the ICAC show Mr Owen called Buildev executive Darren Williams. The inquiry heard the money was then paid.
"It's plain as day looking at all of this that Mr Owen was aware of the involvement of Buildev," counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said.
Mr Hodges said it "certainly wasn't" because of anything he said.
Mr Watson told the commission that he was "anxious" about information that Mr Tinkler had left the country on Friday morning, although he said he was not suggesting Mr Tinkler would not return to give evidence.
"I'm worried about trying to put together the timetable [of witnesses]," Mr Watson said. "We'll get in touch with his lawyers to try and make sure that he's back."
Mr Tinkler's lawyer said: "Of course Mr Tinkler is going to be available for re-examination."
The inquiry heard local developer Bill Saddington also helped to cover Mr Hodges' $10,000 bill.
In a text message sent on February 1, 2011, Mr Owen said: "Would Bill Saddington be happy to start paying him [Hodges] asap?"
Earlier on Friday, the lawyer for Hunter Valley property developer Hilton Grugeon objected to the use of the word "bribe" on Thursday to describe a $10,000 payment given to suspended Liberal MP Andrew Cornwell in return for a painting the inquiry heard was worth nowhere near as much.
His lawyer said the payment was more akin to "patronage" as no favour was done or sought in return for the payment.
But Mr Watson said: "I'm sticking with the word bribe."
Mr Owen is expected to give evidence on Monday.