Ex-mayor ‘fought’ for developer: inquiry

A former Victorian mayor accused of taking bribes is heard in a phone call played to a corruption inquiry assuring a developer he is “in the background fighting”.

In the call in January last year, former Casey mayor Sam Aziz tells businessman Andrew Nehme he approached the council planning director on his behalf and the director was “very receptive” to his requests.

Mr Aziz then tells Mr Nehme he should arrange a meeting with the director.

“I’d like the meeting to actually happen without me. I want to assure you I’m in the background fighting,” he says.

Mr Nehme replies: “That’s a sensible move, you staying in the background, because then nobody can question the other … of your intent.”

Mr Aziz has told the corruption inquiry payments of between $15,000 and $140,000 from Mr Nehme after the $28 million sale of a council-owned bulk goods centre were part of a “loan”.

He also confirmed he was friends with Mr Nehme, the director of Action Group Australia, a subsidiary of a Kuwait company overseen by Sheik Mubarak al-Sabah.

In an earlier call between the pair on December 21, 2018, Mr Aziz tells Mr Nehme he is “stuck on a bit of an issue” and proposes he lend him $500,000, with Mr Aziz to repay him $550,000 in two years.

Mr Nehme replies that some developers who had approached the council with requests needed some “comfort” and Mr Aziz agrees to make a call for him.

“I’m thinking you could get a bit of a kick out of … deposit … on the house so that could be something,” Mr Nehme says.

Counsel assisting Michael Tovey asked Mr Aziz if he understood that Mr Nehme was referring to a kickback.

“No, I haven’t necessarily understood that to be the case,” Mr Aziz replied.

“You thought that he was inviting you to a game of football?” Mr Tovey asked.

“I thought he was talking about it again in a context of private finance but again I didn’t understand what he meant by that and I didn’t really want to pursue it any further,” Mr Aziz says.

Mr Aziz was also quizzed about monthly payments of up to $3500 he received from Spicer Thoroughbreds.

He said they were fees to research the creation of an investment fund to buy overseas racehorses, denying the arrangement was to funnel money between developer John Woodman and himself.

The inquiry has heard there has been more than $900,000 in payments from Mr Woodman or his associated entities to Mr Aziz over several years, which the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission alleges was used to get support for certain projects.

Mr Aziz also proposed to Mr Woodman to buy his Berwick home for $750,000, which was saddled with $490,000 in mortgage debt, and he’d buy it back at a later time for a nominal fee.

Mr Aziz said the proposal was for private finance and he could not recall if he was voting on Mr Woodman’s projects at that time.

The hearings are part of an IBAC investigation into allegations of corrupt conduct involving councillors and property developers in the City of Casey and resume Thursday.

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