ICAC probes Sydney University IT contractor middle man

Canberra Solutions, a non-NSW government-accredited company, has been investigated by the state's corruption commission as part of an inquiry into the course of activity undertaken by the head of IT projects at Sydney University.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) continued its inquiry on Thursday into the University of Sydney's IT department, focusing on the non-government accredited IT services firm, Canberra Solutions.

According to ICAC, in the 18 months that Jason Meeth was the head of projects for the IT department at Sydney University, Canberra Solutions was paid over AU$1.5 million by the university.

The ICAC investigation, Operation Elgar, is centred on the actions of Meeth, a former employee of the university, and whether he engaged in a course of activity on behalf of the university that was partial in terms of his dealings with Canberra Solutions.

Additionally, it is alleged Meeth pocketed AU$29,000 dishonestly from contracts he awarded to Canberra Solutions.

Appearing unrepresented before ICAC on Thursday, Balu Moothedath, who was referred to by the commission on Monday as the "true principal" of the company, testified that as of June, the month he was contacted by ICAC regarding Operation Elgar, he no longer had anything to do with the company. In addition, Moothedath said his wife, Sonata Devadas, remains as the sole shareholder, and sole director of Canberra Solutions.

Instead, Moothedath said his attention is currently focused on another IT services company, Ava Systems Pty Ltd, which operates out of Lane Cove, Sydney.

Warwick Hunt, counsel assisting the commission, asked Moothedath if he had any contact with Canberra Solutions contractors since he was aware that ICAC was investigating him and Devadas, and if that contact included conversation around the ICAC investigation. Moothedath said he was in contact from time to time with all of the contractors he knew worked at the university, but denied any talk regarding ICAC.

Despite not being asked, Moothedath added he had not told any contractors what to say to ICAC.

Hunt asked Moothedath if he spoke with a former contractor, Pranav Shanker -- who testified on Monday -- since Moothedath became aware of the ICAC investigation.

Moothedath said it was possible that he could have met Shanker in North Sydney for two hours in his car and discussed the ICAC investigation, but that he now did not remember. Throughout the proceedings, however, Moothedath constantly affirmed he ran into Shanker in a shopping centre in North Sydney only by chance for a couple of minutes, but that he hadn't seen him since the ICAC investigation began.

After Moothedath denied he had met with Shanker intentionally, ICAC produced video footage of him in his car with Shanker on June 29, 2015, the same day his wife, Devadas, was questioned by ICAC.

Moothedath then admitted it was him, but said the meeting had nothing to do with the ICAC investigation; rather it was a prearranged meeting, and they sat in the car on the street to convene this meeting.

ICAC Commissioner Megan Latham intervened, asking Moothedath why he needed to drive to North Sydney to have a conversation in his car for two hours. Moothedath said he was not comfortable with Shanker being in his home.

Moothedath later disclosed Shanker might have been to his home after the meeting in the car, in July this year. Shortly after, Latham asked Moothedath to confirm he was aware of the implications of lying to the commission.

As highlighted by ICAC on Monday, at the core of the inquiry, it is alleged Meeth contacted government-accredited C100 companies and recommended the services of Canberra Solutions, giving them Moothedath's contact details. Moothedath was then reportedly contacted, and as a result, Meeth would receive resumes of contractors recommended by Moothedath initially

According to Canberra Solution's profit and loss statement for the financial year ending 2013, Devadas took home a AU$105,000 salary. Moothedath said her role was signing documents for the company.

Moothdath, who said he performed work for Canberra Solutions during that time period, received a AU$7,000 salary.

Moothdath told ICAC that his accountant was responsible for the line information. He also said he knew that the C100 company was going to charge a certain amount to the university, and then pay Canberra Solutions the residual from their cut, and that it was then the responsibility of him or his wife to pay the contractor with that money.

Moothedath admitted at least half of that money was kept by Canberra Solutions, and went on to tell ICAC that Meeth did not receive any money from Canberra Solutions. He shrugged his shoulders when Hunt asked what was in it for Meeth to continue to hire Canberra Solutions affiliated contractors.

Devadas will appear before ICAC on Thursday afternoon and Meeth on Friday.

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