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The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found three former councillors engaged in serious corrupt activities and accepting bribes related to two large development proposals.
The former members Vincenzo Badalati, Constantine Hindi, and Philip Sansom of Hurstville and Georges River Council in Sydney’s south accepted cash and travel benefits from developers Philip Uy, Yuqing Liu, and Wensheng Liu to gain their approval for two developments.
One on Treacy Street and the Landmark Square development between 2014 and 2021, according to ICAC.
According to the state corruption watchdog, Mr. Badalati and Mr. Hindi each accepted from Mr. Uy about $70,000 (US$45,240) in relation to the Treacy Street development in 2015 and about $100,000 in relation to the Landmark Square Development in 2018.
They, along with Mr. Hindi’s wife Mireille Hindi, also accepted payment for accommodation at the Beijing International Hotel on the nights of April 10 and 16, 2016 costing about $150 per room per night and for flights from Beijing to Shenzhen on April 10 to the amount of about $363 per person from Mr. Uy.
Mr. Badalati, Mr. and Mrs. Hindi also accepted payment for accommodation at Tangshan Grand Metropark Guofeng Hotel on the nights of April 11 and 12, 2016 costing about $200 per night and for return transfers in luxury cars between Beijing and Tangshan on April 11 and 13, 2016 and meals in Tangshan between April 11 and 12, 2016.
The Developments Under Scrutiny
Wensheng Lui, through his company GR Capital Group, proposed the development of an 11-storey block of apartments at 1–5 Treacy Street, Hurstville.
One Capital, where the same Wensheng Lui served as director and secretary, proposed to develop the Landmark Square at 53–75 Forest Road, 108–126 Durham Street, and 9 Roberts Lane, Hurstville. The Landmark Square is estimated to be over 14,000 square metres. Both developments involved Mr. Uy, through his company Gencorp and his own financial investment.
“Mr. Hindi and Mr. Badalati accepted benefits in association with this trip including payment by Mr. Uy and/or Yuqing Liu (or his company, Xinfeng) for flights and accommodation and travel in luxury cars (including for Mr. Hindi’s wife),” ICAC said.
The real estate agency of Mrs. Hindi also stood to gain $500,000 from the Treacy Street development through a buyer’s agency agreement with One Capital. However, Councillor Hindi did not disclose such a pecuniary interest.
Meanwhile, ICAC said that Mr. Sansom accepted payment for his and his partner’s return flights for a trip to China in March and April 2014. The payment was clearly intended to influence his actions in his official capacity, particularly in matters related to the Treacy Street and Landmark Square projects.
The Commission said that the three councillors did not declare their interests that had arisen from their dealings with the developers.
The investigation also found Mr. Uy culpable for engaging in serious corrupt conduct by providing the payment under these circumstances.
“The Commission has made 11 corruption prevention recommendations to the Department of Planning and Environment including that the DPE amends the Model Code of Conduct to prohibit council officials, including councillors, from accepting gifts and benefits, including hospitality and contributions to travel, from property developers (with some hospitality exceptions such as attendance at industry briefings or educational events),” ICAC said.
“The Commission also recommends that DPE seek an amendment to the Local Government Act 1993 to require a council’s governing body to provide reasons for approving or rejecting development applications, planning proposals, and planning agreements where decisions depart from the recommendations of staff.”