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Sacked Casey councillor Sam Aziz had $21,000 paid into his wife's bank account after the sale of a large council-owned retail centre to a Kuwaiti sheikh, the state's anti-corruption commission has heard.
The sheikh's company bought the property for $28.5 million and sold most of it three years later for almost $60 million.
Former Casey mayor Sam Aziz under examination by Victoria’s anti-corruption commission on Tuesday.Credit:IBAC
The transaction opens a new front into the investigation at Casey Council and is unrelated to other accusations Mr Aziz and others face of taking bribes from allegedly corrupt developer John Woodman.
Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission is investigating a series of land deals involving Casey councillors, former and current state MPs and Mr Woodman.
On Tuesday Mr Aziz, who was mayor of Casey, faced a grilling over his role in the 2016 sale by the council of its Casey Lifestyle Centre, a big-box shopping centre in Narre Warren, to the Action Group, owned by Kuwaiti sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah.
Mr Aziz had become close to Andrew Nehme, a Melbourne businessman who is a director of companies owned by Sheikh Mubarak.
Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah in 2016.Credit:Tertius Pickard
Three weeks after the sale of the lifestyle centre, Mr Aziz’s then-wife had $21,000 deposited into her account by a company related to the Action Group.
IBAC counsel assisting Michael Tovey, QC, asked Mr Aziz: “A matter of weeks after he achieves his aim [of buying the property] he [Mr Nehme] lends you $21,000 and he’s not even your friend at that stage?”
“He was my friend at that stage,” Mr Aziz said of Mr Nehme.
Mr Aziz also said that the $21,000 was the first stage of a loan to him by Mr Nehme that eventually totalled $230,000.
Casey Lifestyle Centre in Narre Warren, sold by Casey Council in 2016 for $28.5 million and resold by the Action Group in 2019 for around $60 million.Credit:Nick Lenaghan
Mr Aziz said he did not have a conflict of interest. “But it could be seen to be that way,” he conceded.
On Tuesday Mr Nehme confirmed to The Age that he had talked to Mr Aziz over a period of years as a representative of a leaseholder at the Casey Lifestyle Centre.
Mr Nehme stressed that Mr Aziz was the ward councillor for the area where the Casey Lifestyle Centre was located.
But Mr Nehme denied dealing with Mr Aziz or other councillors around the sale of the centre.
Asked if he had any financial links to Mr Aziz or had done favours for him, Mr Nehme would not comment. He said he was unaware of any evidence before IBAC, before ending the phone call.
Mr Tovey told Tuesday's hearing that there was evidence that Mr Aziz, a Liberal Party member, had also received $2200 from Mr Nehme in July 2013.
“They were to purchase two tickets for [a fundraiser for] then opposition leader Tony Abbott,” Mr Aziz said in response. “All of the money … went to the campaign of the honourable Jason Wood who was my local member. Mr Nehme was someone who I approached for this event.”
Mr Tovey took Mr Aziz through a series of internal Casey Council emails that showed Mr Nehme complaining about his treatment by the council several months before the sale of the Casey Lifestyle Centre to Action Group. At the time, the Action Group rented properties at the shopping centre.
In one email, Mr Aziz threatened a council officer who questioned Mr Nehme over conditions for businesses at the centre. At one point, Action Group owed Casey Council $400,000 in unpaid rent, another email said.
The email from Mr Aziz to the council officer – who was not doing what Mr Aziz wanted – threatened to haul them before the council’s chief executive officer in a closed council meeting.
Mr Tovey questioned Mr Aziz over the action against the council officer, “You are going to move a motion in-camera criticising an officer of the council. Where did your loyalty lie?”
“I have no idea how you have reached that fantasy,” Mr Aziz said in response.
The hearing continues on Tuesday afternoon.
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