​ICAC finds former Sydney University IT manager acted corruptly

New South Wales' corruption watchdog has found a former IT manager engaged in serious corrupt conduct by improperly exercising his functions as an official at Sydney University.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has found that a former head of projects in the IT department at Sydney University engaged in serious corrupt conduct by improperly exercising his functions as an official at the university.

ICAC found on Wednesday that Jason Meeth gave preferential treatment to Sydney-based Canberra Solutions Pty Ltd by selecting that company's candidates to work at the university as IT contractors, despite it not being a NSW government-accredited C100 company, which was a requirement under the university's direction for the recruitment of IT contractors.

The watchdog said it is satisfied Meeth knew at the time he was required to comply with the now-scrapped "C100 scheme", which was displayed by him arranging for Canberra Solutions contractors to be nominated through an accredited supplier, so it would appear the process was just.

ICAC said Meeth went as far as disguising the university's use of Canberra Solutions, which was managed by Balu Moothedath and his wife Sonata Devadas, on official documentation.

The commission said this was because Meeth knew what he was undertaking was contrary to university policy.

According to ICAC, employing the nine contractors from Canberra Solutions resulted in the company receiving AU$1.6 million from the university, of which it kept approximately AU$800,000 profit. Usually, the recruitment company would rake approximately 10 percent and the balance would be given to the contractor, ICAC said.

"The contractors' daily rate for university IT contracts was in the range of AU$800 per day for business managers, AU$1,000 per day for project managers, and AU$1,200 per day for program managers. The Canberra Solutions' candidates accepted rates of around AU$400 to AU$500 per day," the report says.

Pressing personal circumstances, such as financial hardship due to extended unemployment or lack of relevant work experience in Australia, was the reason ICAC said Canberra Solutions candidates took the underpaid role.

Meeth claimed ignorance to the matter, telling the public inquiry he did not know Canberra Solutions was making such a large profit from his recruitment of its contractors.

As part of the Operation Elgar investigation that began in November, the corruption watchdog examined whether or not Meeth had received any rewards for favouring Canberra Solutions, with Warwick Hunt, counsel assisting the commission, alleging previously that Meeth profited AU$29,000 as a result of the contracts he awarded.

During the investigation, Hunt produced a summary of Meeth's bank accounts, one in his name, and another in both his and his wife's names, with the summary showing that a total of nine cash deposits were made at the Hornsby and North Shore Bankwest branches for the 11 months ending November 2013, totalling AU$24,000.

Meeth testified these deposits came after money was given to him and his wife from their respective parents, as well as money he had put in his "cash tin" from his wallet and miscellaneous savings. Meeth said although this process of keeping cash at home has since ceased, he estimated it contained up to AU$15,000 at any one time.

ICAC said Wednesday that although aspects of the evidence it examined may suggest that Meeth received cash payments from Moothedath, that there was no direct evidence that Moothedath did in fact pay Meeth.

"Having carefully considered the available evidence, the commission accepts that the fact and scale of any financial benefit flowing to Mr Meeth from Mr Moothedath cannot be established to the requisite standard," the report says.

ICAC said Meeth's favouritism of Canberra Solutions was displayed in a number of ways, and said it was wary of relying on Meeth's evidence where it is not corroborated by other evidence.

The commission determined however, that Meeth's conduct could impair public confidence in public administration as a result of his actions.

It was also highlighted by ICAC during the investigation that Meeth knew Moothedath prior to his employment at Sydney University, going back to 2011, when Meeth was working for a large gaming technology company, and that Moothedath provided that company with contractors when he was under the employ of a large multinational company which managed an in-house team of IT professionals.

Off the back of the findings, ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham reported that as a result of the university's changes to its IT labour hire processes, the commission would not be making any recommendations concerning these processes.

The watchdog said it is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions with respect to the prosecution of Moothedath for offences of giving false or misleading evidence to the commission and attempting to procure false evidence.

During the investigation, Moothedath said he no longer had anything to do with Canberra Solutions, saying it was in fact his wife's business. Instead, Moothedath said his attention was focused on another IT services company, Ava Systems Pty Ltd, which operates out of Lane Cove, Sydney.

In March, ICAC found that Ronald Cordoba, the former acting IT manager for the South Western Sydney Institute of TAFE, improperly obtained funds for his own business, procuring over AU$1.7 million in payments to ITD Systems Pty Ltd, a company which he owned and operated.

Further to this, the ICAC investigation found that Cordoba improperly exercised his official functions by ensuring that the SWSI engaged Cloud People Pty Ltd as its contractor to provide "virtual labs", with the intention of ITD Systems reaping a AU$55,000 benefit from the contract.

As a result, ICAC recommended Cordoba face criminal charges for his actions, including two counts of fraud for the AU$1.7 million and AU$55,000 unlawfully obtained; wilfully making false statements to an ICAC officer; and making false or misleading statements under oath during the ICAC investigation.

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