Barry Wells. Photo: Eddie Jim
A public servant at the centre of an investigation into alleged bureaucratic corruption has admitted he accepted cash and gifts in exchange for awarding multiple contracts and expressed surprise that he got away with the shonky deals he was making for so long.
Barry Wells, a project officer with Public Transport Victoria who is alleged to have awarded $25 million in public money to family businesses he set up with a former colleague, made the unexpected admission while giving evidence on Monday at the first public hearing of the state's Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission.
Mr Wells had previously denied allegations that he and his former colleague Albert Ooi had corrupted the department's tendering processes and shared personal profits of about $3 million, but told the hearing: "I'm as responsible for what's happened as Mr Ooi. I think there's this term they use that there's no honour among thieves.''
Albert Ooi leaves the Melbourne County Court. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
The admission followed days of detailed evidence presented to the IBAC investigation that Mr Wells and Mr Ooi effectively ran numerous family owned businesses to which they awarded lucrative contracts, and colluded over seven years between 2006 and 2013 to keep the alleged scam going.
The contracts were for infrastructure projects, including the installation of bus stops and building railway station car parks. The pair spent the money on a range of luxury goods, including two properties in the Philippines, a grand piano and jet skis. The hearing previously saw covert footage filmed late last year of Mr Ooi handing Mr Wells an envelope containing up to $30,000, outside Public Transport Victoria's Docklands headquarters.
Mr Wells told the hearing he thought the pair's deception was set to be exposed in 2010 when a procurement officer within the department noticed that he had been giving Mr Ooi's son, Andrew, contract work under the false name Andrew Yi.
But Mr Wells said his manager at the department, Sergio Lacchiana, accepted on face value his claims of ignorance regarding the family link.
"I think if he was really concerned he would have pushed it forward but ... we were doing so much work through the thing Serge [Lacchiana] was pretty trusting, I suppose,'' he said.
Mr Wells said the fact he was able to continue taking cash for contracts after the discovery indicated the department lacked strong checks and balances regarding the integrity of its tendering processes.
''You're on this treadmill and it's continually going and then something like this comes up - it's like a big pothole in the road," he said.
"But it turned out one that you managed to get over in this case?," said Ted Woodward SC, counsel assisting IBAC.
"That's correct,'' Mr Wells said. "Had there been maybe a different process at finance this would have brought up alarm bells and this would have been all over."
The investigation, dubbed Operation Fitzroy, continues.