Suspended Liberal MP Marie Ficarra accused of 'fibbing' at ICAC

Suspended NSW Liberal MP Marie Ficarra has been accused of lying to a corruption inquiry after she claimed she was busy on the day she allegedly solicited an illegal $5000 donation from a property developer because her miniature schnauzer ''almost died''.

Ms Ficarra told the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Thursday that she had a ''short cup of coffee'' with prominent developer Tony Merhi in the days before the March 2011 state election but she did not ask him to donate to a secret slush fund linked to her colleague Chris Hartcher.

She said it was ''out of the question'' because property developers were banned from making political donations and Mr Merhi ''knew the rules, he'd been a developer for years and years and years''.

In evidence that provoked laughter at times from lawyers in the hearing room, Ms Ficarra said the pre-election ''catch-up'' at Cafe Saligna in the Cumberland State Forest was brief because she had to pick up her miniature schnauzer, Leisl, from the vet at Sylvania.

''She'd almost died and been hospitalised and under veterinary care for almost two months,'' Ms Ficarra said. 

The commission is investigating allegations that Ms Ficarra encouraged Mr Merhi to make a $5000 donation to Eightbyfive, a ''sham company'' set up by Mr Hartcher's former adviser Tim Koelma to receive illegal donations.


Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, has alleged that ''each knew they were doing the wrong thing''. On Thursday he told Ms Ficarra not to ''rave on'', adding ''please don't mention the dog again''.

Ms Ficarra claimed that Mr Merhi had told her he had friends who wanted to donate to the Coalition's election campaign and she gave him the name of Young Liberals' Charles Perrottet because their flying squad needed financial support. Mr Perrottet has denied the claim.

Mr Watson accused her of ''fibbing'' and ''reconstructing'' her evidence, a suggestion she denied.

Earlier, Mr Merhi claimed that Ms Ficarra had recommended he use Eighbyfive as a consultant on his property development projects and he gave a $5000 ''deposit'' to the company.

''This is a set up, sir!'' he told Ms Ficarra's solicitor Greg Walsh in a heated exchange from the witness box.

Among the companies who allegedly made donations to Eightbyfive was Australian Water Holdings, a company linked to the family of former Labor MP Eddie Obeid.

Eric Koelma, the younger brother of Tim Koelma, the alleged mastermind behind the Eightbyfive scheme, was grilled about why he had delivered an anonymous complaint to ICAC containing false and defamatory material about the then head of Sydney Water, Dr Kerry Schott.

The commission has heard Dr Schott opposed AWH's proposal for a lucrative partnership with the state government and that Mr Obeid and AWH chief Nick Di Girolamo were involved in an attempt to ''destroy'' her.

In 2010 Mr Koelma’s brother Tim sent him an email asking him to deliver a document to the ICAC. Tim Koelma signed off: ''Yay! Black ops.''

Despite responding to his brother with six zeroes, computer code for ''black ops'', Eric Koelma denied the brothers were referring to their covert action against Dr Schott. He said he had never heard of ICAC before this.

''So what you’ve done is: you forwarded on a complaint by someone you don’t know about people you don’t know to an entity that you just said you’d never heard of?'' junior counsel assisting the commission, Greg O’Mahoney, asked. ''That’s correct,'' Mr Koelma replied.

Tim Koelma will give evidence next week.