Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
V/Line's former boss James Pinder told the government agency's cleaning contractor on a secret burner phone that the COVID-19 pandemic presented an "opportunity " to "boost your coffers", according to intercepted phone conversations played to a public inquiry.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission intercepted a series of phone conversations between Mr Pinder and George Haritos, the head of cleaning contractor Transclean, a company that Mr Pinder granted a contract worth up to $40 million in 2018.
Former V/Line boss James Pinder.
The state's anti-corruption commission is investigating alleged serious corruption at V/Line and Metro Trains, including that public officials received financial benefits in exchange for granting cleaning contracts. It is the second corruption probe into V/Line in three years.
Mr Pinder took direct control of the Transclean contract, instead of it being managed by V/Line's board, giving him the power to extend the agreement by three years, adding more than $20 million to its value. He also authorised a $5 million widening of Transclean's remit to include carrying out deep cleaning formerly done by Bombardier, the inquiry heard.
He told the IBAC hearing he used a burner phone between 2016-2020 to talk to Metro operational fleet manager Peter Bollas and Mr Haritos about a legal gambling syndicate they were a part of. All three men, who called each other "musketeers", will face the hearings this week.
Mr Bollas, who managed Metro's cleaning, is also accused of receiving cash payments from Transclean.
In a March 10 intercepted phone conversation between Mr Pinder and Mr Haritos, played to the live-streamed hearings, Mr Pinder said: "This coronavirus … it's an opportunity, isn't it?"
Mr Pinder told Mr Haritos trains would need to be cleaned every six hours due to the pandemic. "I'm thinking it's an opportunity to throw a bit of extra you-know-what," he said.
Mr Haritos asked about the budget for the work.
"I'm going to push my lot," Mr Pinder said. "I've got to get the government to give us some cash and if I can do that, then everything's good."
Former V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s Williamstown home.Credit:www.realestate.com.au
Counsel assisting IBAC, Paul Lawrie, proposed: "You're talking about extra cleaning work that comes with the requirements to provide a safer environment during the COVID response aren’t you?"
Mr Pinder claimed he was merely giving the contractor a "heads up" about the extra work.
"You have a whole organisational structure beneath you to look after the management of this contract," Mr Lawrie said. "There would be no conceivable reason for you to be personally involved in this in your role as CEO of V/Line, would there?"
Mr Pinder denied the conversation was unusual and said the only reason the board would disapprove of it was because he swore and was "familiar" with Mr Haritos.
"In this industry, everybody talks about everything all the time and everyone is connected and these sorts of conversations happen hundreds of times every day," he said.
Covert photos tendered also showed Mr Pinder allegedly receiving $10,000 in cash from Mr Haritos near a Williamstown coffee shop on August 19 this year, which Mr Pinder said were earnings from the gambling syndicate.
Separate footage of the first of two IBAC raids of Mr Pinder's home shows him dropping the burner phone and the envelope of $10,000 in cash behind his door, as officers arrived at his doorstep in August. He did not direct officers to the items and told them he didn't know what they were when they were discovered by IBAC investigators.
The inquiry also heard Mr Pinder wrote a series of hand-written letters intended for Mr Haritos passed via a Transclean employee after he was raided in which he proposed a set of narratives about why he had the burner phone and the $10,000 in cash.
Mr Pinder allegedly warned Mr Haritos that their conversations would be tapped by IBAC and they should use WhatsApp to communicate, the inquiry heard. He said the IBAC probe "may not end well, prepare for the worst, we need to stick together," the inquiry heard.
Mr Pinder was given a second burner phone from the Transclean associate after the first phone was seized in the August raid. The second phone was seized in another raid in October.
The hearings continue.
Get our Morning & Evening Edition newsletters
The most important news, analysis and insights delivered to your inbox at the start and end of each day. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
Source: Read Full Article