Australian diplomats convinced ICAC to censor Pacific nations where Maguire schemed. It didn’t work.

Photo: ICAC

Federal Australian officials successfully persuaded the NSW corruption watchdog to “de-identify” a group of Pacific countries mentioned in last week’s report on Gladys Berejiklian’s and Daryl Maguire’s “corrupt conduct”.

But other evidence from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) still publicly available on its website reveals the countries include Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa. Those are countries where ICAC alleges the disgraced former Wagga Wagga MP Maguire sought to use his position as a NSW parliamentarian to advance his financial interests.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade Department (DFAT) argued that publishing the countries’ names would have “significant potential to negatively impact Australia’s international relations”, and ICAC agreed to censor them, according to a note attached to last Thursday’s Operation Keppel report.

Crikey can reveal that while DFAT managed to keep the countries’ names out of the report — where they are referred to as country A, country B, and so on — it did not try to persuade ICAC to hide numerous exhibits and hearing transcripts when the nations were discussed by name.

“DFAT did not request that the commission redact anything in the Operation Keppel exhibits or transcripts,” an ICAC spokesperson told Crikey.

On Friday afternoon, after Crikey contacted ICAC and DFAT about the exhibits revealing the country names, lawyers from both agencies were in touch with each other, poring over the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and other international laws to figure out if the censorship should be extended to the other material on ICAC’s website.

The names of the countries were widely reported by the media in 2020 during the public hearings concerning Maguire’s conduct in office. For example, a quote from Maguire rendered in the report as “[country C] is definitely a go” was reported in The Sydney Morning Herald on 21 September 2020 as: “Samoa is definitely a go”.

The quote was from a phone call between Maguire and his Wagga Wagga business associate Phillip Elliott, who ran the company, G8way International, together. Phone taps and other evidence indicated Maguire was hoping to make some money by helping a Chinese business contact establish a resort and casino in Samoa.

The business contact, Ho Yuen Li, was the president of business group Shenzhen Asia Pacific Commercial Development Association (SAPCDA). Maguire was the group’s honorary chairman.

“Maguire agreed that he assisted Li to explore the project of getting a resort and an accompanying casino licence off the ground by arranging meetings,” the final report said. “He saw such a resort and licence as a possibility of a profit-making venture for G8way International through some management opportunities for Elliott, and possibly profits for himself and  Elliott, as well as  Li.”

The identities of the countries can also be easily deciphered by comparing the report to the exhibit list on ICAC’s website.

For example, the report quotes a letter by Maguire dated 16 June 2016 that says: “I can confirm on my return to Australia I have met with [country A, country B, country C and country D] who have all given in principal [sic] support to joining the association. Commitments have been given by [country D] to extend the invitation to [country E] and [country F] to join. This meeting will be arranged by [country D] in Canberra soon.”

A document published by ICAC says the June 2016 letter was tendered as exhibit 0557. The un-redacted exhibit on ICAC’s website reads:

“I can confirm on my return to Australia I have met with Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa who have all given in principal support to joining the association. Commitments have been given by Fiji to extend the invitation to Vanuatu and Tonga to join. This meeting will be arranged by Fiji in Canberra soon.”

(Samoa was designated as country C elsewhere in the report, but it appears the authors mistakenly labelled it country D when discussing the June 2016 letter.)

Several foreign public officials were also given secret identities in the report, including a former vice-consul known as Mr X, a “provincial official” known as Mr Y, and Mr G, a former “consul-general for country G”.

A note attached to the Operation Keppel report sets out to explain “why certain people and countries have been de-identified in the text of the report”.

“In preparing this report, the commission communicated with DFAT concerning the potential for foreign diplomats, consular officials, foreign government officials or foreign nationals to be identified in the report in connection with the activities of Maguire,” the note said.

“DFAT expressed concern that identifying specific officials or specific countries whose officials were approached by Maguire ‘has significant potential to negatively impact Australia’s international relations’ and may be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under [international law].”

ICAC wrote in the note that it agreed to remove the countries’ names from the report “after carefully considering the advice of DFAT”.

DFAT did not issue a response to repeated requests for comment by Crikey over the past five days. Following the publication of this article, the department sent the following statement:

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade works to maintain Australia’s obligations under the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations. This can include making representations to state and territory investigative authorities.”

Maguire’s dealings with the Pacific nations through his chairmanship of the NSW Parliament’s Asia-Pacific Friendship Group (APFG) were, according to ICAC, “undertaken with a view to his personal pecuniary benefit”.

“It was an abuse of his position as a member of Parliament and chair of the APFG for Mr Maguire to use the weight of his office, and the diplomatic and consular ties it afforded him, and parliamentary resources, to advance private business interests for SAPCDA, with the ultimate hope, if possible, to gain some personal profits for himself,” the report said.

ICAC believed some of Maguire’s contacts with one of the Pacific nations were “highly inappropriate and apt to risk damaging Australia’s consular and/or diplomatic relations with a friendly nation and very important trading partner”.

ICAC also accused Maguire of participating in several other allegedly corrupt schemes during his time as Wagga Wagga MP.

In a statement issued through his lawyer on Monday, Maguire addressed several of ICAC’s allegations related to other projects — including a shooting club and music conservatorium in Wagga.

“Daryl Maguire is proud of his many achievements serving the electorate of Wagga and NSW and strongly denies all allegations referring to the projects above,” said his lawyer Jim Harrowell

The statement did not address the matters related to the Pacific nations, and lawyer Jim Harrowell said no further comments would be made.

ICAC recommended that the NSW director of public prosecutions (DPP) look into whether Maguire should be prosecuted for his activities related to G8wayInternational, the APFG, and for allegedly misusing his parliamentary position to advance his financial interests. It also recommended the DPP look into whether Elliott should be charged for offences related to giving false evidence and mishandling documents.

Maguire is facing court over other allegations related to his time as an MP.

Berejiklian is not accused of participating in Maguire’s alleged schemes abroad, nor did ICAC recommend the DPP look into charging her. But she was faulted by ICAC for failing to report suspicions of corrupt conduct by the MP, with whom she led a five-year secret relationship. She was also reprimanded for failing to disclose her relationship with Maguire, even though she used her position as treasurer and premier to fund some of his pet projects in Wagga.

ICAC deemed some of her conduct in office amounted to serious corruption. Berejiklian has denied wrongdoing and indicated she may appeal the findings.