Western Australia’s corruption watchdog has exposed the alleged complex money trail through which disgraced senior public servant Paul Whyte obtained cash for a deposit on a $2.9 million luxury riverside home in Perth.
- The money was allegedly funnelled through a friend’s company
- It was paid $374,000 of public money for work it never did
- Company director Matthew Hunt has denied acting improperly
A Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) hearing was told Whyte allegedly offered Department of Housing work on a project in South Hedland to a friend’s company.
Part of the payment that company received was then transferred to Whyte’s personal account to help pay for the deposit on his Mosman Park house.
Counsel assisting the CCC Nadia Pantano told the hearing the company in question, steel fabricator CR Steel, never actually carried out any of the work but none of the money was ever repaid to the department.
Whyte’s friend was the former director of CR Steel, Matthew Hunt, who denied acting improperly.
Whyte has already pleaded guilty to stealing more than $22 million of taxpayers’ money when he was a former senior executive in the Department of Housing and is in jail awaiting sentencing.
The CCC is now investigating possible separate serious misconduct within the department.
It is exploring allegations Whyte siphoned several million dollars from an affordable housing project in South Hedland to pay for the Mosman Park house in 2012-13.
Public money paid for work never completed
The inquiry heard yesterday his de facto partner Christine Seiver paid for the $250,000 deposit with three separate cheques, including the last one for $150,000 on September 18, 2012.
It is that sum the CCC alleges Mr Hunt took out of the business account of CR Steel on the same day.
“What was paid was two cheques drawn by you to Mr Whyte from the business’s bank account for a deposit for his house,” Ms Pantano said.
Mr Hunt said he and Whyte had been friends for about 40 years and were also involved in a horse racing syndicate together, which only ended when Whyte was arrested by police in November 2019.
Mr Hunt explained that in mid-2011 Whyte loaned CR Steel $120,000 to help cover shortfalls in the company’s payroll for its roughly 50 employees.
He said he thought Whyte had obtained the money from “a big win” on the horses. “I’m assuming it was from a large bet,” Mr Hunt said.
But Ms Pantano told the hearing the funds had actually been deposited in CR Steel’s account in increments, and had originally come from the Department of Housing via various other accounts.
Then in mid-July 2012, Mr Hunt said Whyte contacted him to say he might have some work for CR Steel on the temporary accommodation camp for workers building the Department of Housing’s South Hedland affordable housing project, named the Hamilton Precinct.
He said they were awarded the contract in September and, unusually, it included a stipulation that 40 per cent of the contract would be paid to CR Steel “on procurement”.
On September 11, 2012 Mr Hunt emailed Whyte two invoices worth $374,470 for the 40 per cent, which Whyte approved the same day.
The money was deposited by the department into CR Steel’s account three days later.
But the hearing heard CR Steel never did the work and never repaid the money.
Mr Hunt told the hearing the company never received the specifications for the steel work from Whyte and he told them there had been “delays”.
He agreed CR Steel had not carried out any work on the project and kept the money.
CR Steel went into administration in 2015.
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Its two other directors were David Lines and former West Coast Eagles and Essendon coach John Worsfold, who Mr Hunt said was not as involved in the company’s operations as he and Mr Lines.
Ms Pantano asked Mr Hunt if he had discussions with the other directors about repaying the money.
He replied “not really” and only once had a brief discussion with Mr Lines about it.
“What value for money did the department get for the 40 per cent they paid CR steel, if nothing was done?,” Ms Pantano asked.
“What complicates this is no work was done for the $374,000.
“You were the director of a company that accepted money for work that was never done.
“Did you make any attempt at any point to repay the money?”
Mr Hunt replied he did not think they had to.
“I didn’t think the job had been cancelled completely and we had to repay it,” he said.
“It was going to happen at some point.”
Ms Pantano then revealed that four days after the $374,470 was deposited by the department into the CR Steel account, $150,000 was withdrawn.
It was around this time, Mr Hunt said, that Whyte had suddenly demanded the repayment of his $120,00 loan to CR Steel.
“Did you discuss he’d transfer the money into CR Steel’s bank account in order for you to be able to provide him with a $150,000 cheque for his deposit?” Ms Pantano asked Mr Hunt.
“No, absolutely not,” he replied. “It was two different matters. One was a project. We were simply paying his money back.
“The first I heard about him putting an offer on his house, was when he said needed the money back.”
The hearing continues.