Liberal party fundraiser Aaron Henry leaving the ICAC hearing. Photo: Rob Homer Sydney accountant Timothy Trumbull (left) leaves the ICAC hearing. Photo: Rob Homer
ICAC appearance: former resources minister Chris Hartcher. Photo: Phil Hearne
Former Liberal state energy minister Chris Hartcher was personally involved in seeking illegal donations from embattled coal mogul Nathan Tinkler, text messages tendered at a corruption inquiry reveal.
A former staff member to Mr Hartcher, Aaron Henry, texted the controller of an alleged Liberal Party slush fund on June 8, 2010: “CPH [Christopher Peter Hartcher] wants confirmation the invoice has been sent to Patinack Farm.”
“Confirmed,” a long-time adviser to Mr Hartcher, Tim Koelma, replied at 9.52am.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating allegations that Mr Koelma set up a “sham business” called Eightbyfive to receive donations from illegal sources, including $66,000 from Mr Tinkler’s property development group Buildev via his horse racing business Patinack Farm.
Property developers have been banned from donating to political parties in NSW since December 2009.
Mr Hartcher and fellow central coast MPs Chris Spence and Darren Webber, along with staff members Mr Koelma and Ray Carter, allegedly solicited secret donations in return for political favours.
Mr Henry told the commission on Wednesday he did not know why Mr Hartcher would be “distracting himself” from the March 2011 state election campaign by asking about a horse racing operation.
“This is a pretty important inquiry, I think,” counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said. “Most people in NSW are watching it. It’s pretty important for us to find out why.”
Mr Henry said he was a “junior staffer” and was “at the direction” of his boss.
Later on Wednesday, Sydney accountant Timothy Trumbull was accused of knowingly breaching political donations laws by using Irish backpackers on his payroll as “fronts” to donate $4000 to the NSW Liberal Party.
The inquiry has heard the money eventually made its way into another alleged slush fund, Micky Tech, after Mr Hartcher laundered the money through his old law firm, Hartcher Reid. The firm is not accused of wrongdoing.
Described as ”avidly anti-socialist”, Mr Trumbull, his wife Lynn and his company had all reached their cap on allowable donations, the hearing was told.
Mr Trumbull insisted he was not breaking the law as the backpackers were ”very interested in politics” and were happy to spend their bonuses on donations.
”They were not even entitled to vote, they were backpackers from England and Ireland,” Commissioner Megan Latham said.
”I don’t even have an interest in my own country’s politics,” one of the backpackers said in a statement tendered to the commission.
But Mr Trumbull insisted: ”It was organised so that no laws were broken.”
”I am putting to you that you are lying,” Mr Watson said.
The inquiry was told that Mr Trumbull dropped the three cheques to Dee Why real estate agent John Caputo before the 2011 state election.
Mr Caputo, who is a former mayor of Warringah and a major fund-raiser for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Premier Mike Baird, later gave the cheques to Mr Hartcher. He is expected to give evidence on Thursday.
The inquiry also heard that Mr Hartcher used Liberal MLC Charlie Lynn to do a favour for Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings, which donated more than $180,000 to Eightbyfive.
Mr Lynn, who is not accused of wrongdoing, said he was not a friend of Mr Hartcher although they were “supposedly” from the same conservative right faction of the Liberal Party.
“I think they call it the IKEA faction now,” Mr Lynn said. “You join it together when you want something done.”
Ms Latham quipped: “Does it come with its own Allen key?”
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