Transport corruption investigated in fresh IBAC hearings

Victoria’s anti-corruption watchdog will launch fresh public hearings into the most significant corruption investigation in the state’s transport history.

The state’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is calling new witnesses as part of its investigation, Operation Esperance, which is examining evidence that senior public officials in the transport bureaucracy were bribed by a major cleaning contractor Transclean.

Photos taken during the IBAC raid on sacked V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s home.Credit:IBAC

The hearings will commence on March 29 and run over four days. It comes five months after witnesses were first called over a six-day period last year.

“The first round of public hearings for IBAC’s Operation Esperance investigation exposed a range of integrity issues, including around the processes and management of certain major contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers,” Commissioner Robert Redlich QC said.

“The investigation has also raised concerns around the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential cleaning services in the state’s public transport system during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

V/Line’s former chief executive James Pinder was sacked after evidence at IBAC that he allegedly accepted cash bribes from regional rail operator’s cleaning contractor, Transclean, after granting the company a $40 million contract to clean V/Line trains.

It was heard that $320,000 was transferred to his account from multiple sources linked to Transclean, which was allegedly spent on his $2.5 million Williamstown home.

Metro’s former rolling stock manager Peter Bollas was also sacked after he admitted to accepting up to $150,000 from Transclean in exchange for furthering Transclean’s interests at Metro. This included tipping Transclean off about upcoming independent audits.

The cleaning company paid $1.3 million extra a month by the state government to sanitise the city’s trains during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year allegedly cut corners on cleaning while paying off Mr Bollas and Mr Pinder.

Former V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s Williamstown

Covert audio recordings played to the hearings captured Mr Bollas and Mr Pinder allegedly plotting to secure Transclean extra cleaning work during COVID-19 in exchange for cash bribes, with Mr Pinder assuring Transclean boss George Haritos the extra work would “boost your coffers”.

CCTV footage captured Mr Haritos withdrawing between $8000 and $12,000 before meeting Mr Pinder at cafes, car parks and even V/Line’s offices on several occasions in 2020.

However, Mr Pinder and Mr Haritos insisted at last year’s inquiry that the money was winnings from a legal gambling syndicate and they were not involved in any corruption. Mr Bollas denied that this syndicate existed.

IBAC launched Operation Esperance in 2018, following previous corruption probes within Victorian transport – Operation Fitzroy in 2014 and Lansdowne in 2017.

Counsel Assisting will be Paul Lawrie and IBAC’s principal lawyer, Joseph Amin.

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