Witnesses speak at University of Sydney ICT contractor corruption inquiry

Witnesses speak at University of Sydney ICT contractor corruption inquiry

A former contractor, who was recruited through the company involved in the allegations of corruption, says he was asked to lie

A public inquiry by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) taking place this week revealed damning details over allegations that the University of Sydney’s former head of projects for ICT, Jason Meeth, dishonestly gained money from recruiting ICT contractors from non-accredited Canberra Solutions.

It is alleged that Meeth had dealings with Canberra Solutions’ Balu Moothedath during February 2012 to July 2013 to recruit ICT contractors from that company, and exercised his decision-making powers at the university to see those contractors be awarded jobs.

It is claimed that the $24-29,000 in cash that was deposited into Meeth’s bank account during the period could be a financial reward for bringing profits to Canberra Solutions, with the company taking a significant portion of the contractors’ fees charged to the university.

It is claimed that the university employed nine candidates from Canberra Solutions directly under Meeth and paid the company at least $1.6 million for the contractors’ services.

Through subcontracting arrangements, Meeth was able to hire candidates from Canberra Solutions even though the company was not on the NSW government accredited ‘C100’ list, which the university is required to use when recruiting contractors.

Jovan Apostolovic, who was working as a project coordinator within the university’s ICT/project management group during 2012, revealed that Meeth did not disclose a conflict of interest when they both interviewed candidates and questioned his choice of candidates.

When asked whether he agreed with Meeth’s choice of contractors coming from Canberra Solutions, Apostolovic said he recalls a selected candidate he felt was not the best.

He said Meeth chose a candidate whose visa was dependent on her partner studying, meaning it could be a risk to the company if her partner’s visa doesn’t work out. In addition, Apostolovic believed the candidate was not outstanding enough compared to other candidates to outweigh the visa concern.

Nevertheless, Meeth hired the candidate, with Apostolovic saying that there was no adequate explanation as to how Meeth came to his decision and couldn’t work out what made certain candidates the preferred choice over others.

A document was presented during the inquiry, in the context of organising interviews, naming candidates from Paxus with ‘Balu’s candidates’ also stated but with no names listed.

When Apostolovic was asked whether he understood at the time that ‘Balu’s candidates’ were candidates coming from Canberra Solutions via Paxus, he replied 'no'.

Apostolovic said from his understanding it was mandatory to hire contractors from the C100 list, but Meeth had told him that there was a possibility of subcontracting as a work-around to hire desired candidates not from the list.

Meeth did not make it known that there was a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest when interviewing and hiring contractors, specifically in relation to Canberra Solutions, Apostolovic said.

It was also revealed that Apostolovic’s employment at the university was terminated by Meeth, which Apostolovic claimed to be unfair and took proceedings at the time for unfair dismissal.

He was questioned whether this has any influence on his claims about Meeth during the time he worked for him and if he is attempting to get revenge of being unfairly terminated. Apostolovic disagreed with this, saying it had no influence.

Apostolovic was also asked if this had any influence on his opinion of the candidate who had a partner student visa, which Meeth selected for a job. He replied no and pointed out the interview with this candidate happened long before his employment ended with the university.

Another witness who spoke at the inquiry was Pranav Shanker, a contractor who was recruited under Canberra Solutions’ Moothedath. Shanker said he was never told his daily pay rate for his services by Canberra Solutions, Paxus - which was used for subcontracting - nor the University of Sydney.

A document was presented that showed a copy of the contract to Paxus, which Shanker signed, stating ‘as per schedule A’ in place of where a daily pay rate would appear. Shanker said he did not know what ‘as per schedule A’ meant, but knew the pro rata’d yearly rate.

A copy of the contract to Canberra Solutions was presented, which included the daily pay rate. Shanker said this was the first time he ever saw that document.

Shanker also got into dealings with Moothedath to have his wife fictitiously employed, where she would be employed and paid on paper, but for a job that was not real.

Moothedath would pay wages to her bank account, minus tax, with superannuation deposited into a super fund, and have Shanker withdraw and return the net cash to him in person.

Shanker said he believed Moothedath was benefiting in his taxation from this, while his wife was benefiting in superannuation.

He also said Moothedath asked him to lie about this when he met in him his car in North Sydney around the end of June this year. He said Moothedath asked to meet him in person to alert him to the ICAC investigation and asked him and his wife to go with the story that his wife was working in a call centre.

Shanker agreed to lie, claiming he did it to protect himself and his wife, but admitted it was a mistake.

Moothedath also asked Shanker, during the second half of this year, to sign a backdated contract from the time he worked at the university in June 2012. His wife was also asked to sign a backdated contract for her fictitious employment. A document was presented that showed a backdated contract that Shanker had signed.

More witnesses are speaking at the inquiry throughout the week, with Balu Moothedath to be questioned on Wednesday and Jason Meeth on Thursday.

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Tags university of sydneyICT contractorslegalIndependent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)

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