A $100,000 audit of the Northern Territory Health Department’s pensioner travel concession scheme was “fluff”, a waste of taxpayers’ money and delayed a fraud investigation into the scheme, the NT Supreme Court has heard.
Senior crown prosecutor David Morters has given evidence in the trial of former NT police commissioner John McRoberts, who has pleaded not guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice.
Mr McRoberts is accused of trying to interfere in a travel agent fraud investigation â€” allegedly preventing the execution of an initial search warrant â€” because he had been in a sexual relationship with its main target, the now-convicted Xana Kamitsis.
According to Mr Morters, a 2013 Ernst & Young audit report on use of the NT Health Department scheme delayed the police investigation into travel agents rorting it by more than nine months.
“It was an absolute waste of $100,000 in taxpayers’ money,” Mr Morters told defence lawyer Anthony Elliot during cross-examination.
“It was all nice fluff, but it didn’t take the matter any further.
“Obviously, they were protecting their reputation.”
Mr Morters told the court the Health Department instead should have made its database available to police, who could have generated the same information within a shorter timeframe.
He said the audit report did not provide police with information, such as the actual travel vouchers submitted, which could be used as evidence in court.
“What we wanted was the documents which were arguably false, invoices that were sent by travel agents to the Department of Health for reimbursement by the scheme,” Mr Morters said.
“We were delayed in that process because of this silliness.”
Under cross-examination, Mr Morters said initial information about travel agents defrauding the Health Department scheme fed through to police because “lower level public servants were concerned about it and reported it appropriately”.
This stopped once the information filtered up to higher levels of the public service, he told the court.
Mr Morters’ boss, NT Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Jack Karczewski, also gave evidence about a police request for a “second opinion”.
This occurred after Mr Morters advised in May 2014 there was a reasonable prospect of successfully prosecuting Kamitsis, the court heard.
Mr Karczewski told prosecutor Michael McHugh SC he “hadn’t come across” such a request during his time with the DPP.
“It’s not something which is commonly done at all, unless there is a significant change in circumstance,” he told the court.
Mr McHugh SC asked Mr Morters about a conversation he had with Detective Sergeant Jason Blake about the request.
“It was a short and fairly terse conversation, because I was very unhappy with having received a request for a second opinion,” he said.
Mr Karczewski told the court he refused the request because it was unclear what “advice or assurance” he was being asked to give and an opinion had already been provided by the DPP’s “fraud expert”.
NT Correctional Services Commissioner Mark Payne today began giving evidence about meetings with Mr McRoberts in May and June 2014.
Commissioner Payne, who was acting deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner for crime, told the court his boss was worried about the direction of the travel agent investigation.
“I was satisfied that the action should go forward,” he said.
Commissioner Payne told the court Mr McRoberts had said the matter was “not ready to go to an overt investigation”, which would include the execution of a search warrant on Kamitsis.
He said one comment made by Mr McRoberts stuck out in particular.
“It was a stinging comment â€” ‘this file does not appear to me to represent two years of investigative work’,” Commissioner Payne said.
The court heard Mr McRoberts also queried why Kamitsis was the top target.
“He asked the question, ‘why did we start here?’,” Commissioner Payne said.
He told the court Mr McRoberts was concerned defences had been “left open” because of the scheme’s governance arrangements and that a civil approach was appropriate.
“I had not come across a situation where a commissioner had stopped an overt action,” Commissioner Payne said.
“I could see the need for caution and that a number of issues had to be addressed.”
Commissioner Payne said Mr McRoberts had declared at the time that he knew Kamitsis “socially”.