Shakespearean defence launched against corruption probe

Rachael Ward and Tara Cosoleto |

Property developer John Woodman called an IBAC report “302 pages of lies, half truths and hoax”.
Property developer John Woodman called an IBAC report “302 pages of lies, half truths and hoax”.

Two key figures in a property development scandal examined by a corruption watchdog have launched a colourful defence of their actions, claiming they never paid or accepted bribes.

Developer John Woodman and former Casey councillor Sameh Aziz presented their cases during an eccentric 90-minute press conference plagued by technical difficulties on Monday.

The address, in south Melbourne, involved snippets from a silent film, a poster stating “something is rotten in the state of IBAC”, in reference to a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and a video of a football bouncing across an NRL pitch.

An Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) report tabled in parliament last week found Mr Aziz and his colleague Geoff Ablett accepted almost $1.2 million in payments to promote the interests of Mr Woodman and his clients.

The Operation Sandon report said the pair repeatedly failed to declare conflicts of interest and continued trying to influence other councillors even after they did.

Separately, Mr Woodman also donated more than $470,000 to the Labor and Liberal parties between 2010 and 2019, to access state decision-makers and to help fund the election campaigns of three Labor MPs.

During the press conference Mr Woodman and Mr Aziz denied anything inappropriate took place.

Mr Woodman called the report “302 pages of lies, half-truths and hoax” and was frustrated the commission did not include his lengthy submission in its final report.

He denied bribing any Casey councillors and said there was nothing improper about donating to political parties as long as there was nothing expected in return.

Mr Woodman spent more than 30 minutes critiquing planning decisions not connected to the IBAC probe.

He claimed the commission peddled a “false narrative” against him, while waving a metre-long wooden ruler at a projector screen.

Mr Aziz spent much of the presentation clicking through slides for Mr Woodman before saying he did not accept bribes and would defend any allegations against him.

He admitted he regretted once paying cash to Mr Woodman in a suitcase but insisted it was connected to an investment scheme, and he received interest on the money.

“If I had my time again, I don’t think I would have conveyed the money to him in that manner, because obviously the issue of a suitcase and cash raises all this imagery about bribery and impropriety,” Mr Aziz said.

The former councillor could not recall ever describing Mr Woodman as a “bottomless ATM” and said he was not permitted to defend himself against the corruption probe.

IBAC declined to comment.

Meanwhile, a former IBAC commissioner has doubled down on claims a powerful integrity committee was being “unduly affected” by government interests.

Robert Redlich last year wrote to the Victorian parliament’s Speaker and president claiming politicisation of the Labor-majority Integrity and Oversight Committee.

Mr Redlich’s comments led to a shake-up, with the committee no longer chaired by a government member.

But a report published in The Age said the committee’s Labor MPs tried to block Mr Redlich from giving evidence to the integrity committee.

At a committee hearing on Monday, Mr Redlich said that report showed the committee was still “unduly affected by political considerations”.

“The integrity committee stands between the commission and parliament,” Mr Redlich told the hearing.

“It’s pivotal that it’s designed to operate without political interference.”

Mr Redlich also called for IBAC to have wider powers, including being able to make findings of corruption even when it does not constitute a criminal offence.

“The integrity commission should not be constrained by having to be satisfied that a crime has been committed,” he said.