Sydney Uni IT manager guilty of corrupt conduct

A former University of Sydney IT manager has been found by the Independent Commission Against Corruption to have engaged in corrupt conduct over a five year period.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has completed its investigations of a University of Sydney IT manager's conduct during his employment at the tertiary institute, finding him have engaged in corrupt conduct.

Former University of Sydney IT Manager Atilla Demiralay was accused of using a company he held a significant interest in to hire IT contractors over a five year period.

At the time of the initial inquiry Demiralay said he was unaware that he had signed an agreement that made him a significant shareholder in the company, and that in the subsequent five years of hiring from that company — Succuro Recruitment — for the university, he simply never noticed the university's recruitment guidelines.

Demiralay resigned from the university in June last year.

However, his resignation did not stopped the investigation from proceeding, and the ICAC handed down its findings today (PDF), revealing that more than simply cashing in a middle-man, he used his position to hire friends and family.

"Demiralay engaged in corrupt conduct by engaging his brother-in-law George Tsipidis to work at the university without disclosing their relationship. He also falsely recorded that he had considered other candidates when engaging a close friend, Adrian Buxton, to work at the university, and recommended that the university employ Gerard Hunt, a candidate provided by Succuro Recruitment Pty. Ltd., which resulted in the payment of almost AU$16,000 to the company, despite the conflict of interest caused by Demiralay having a financial interest in the company," the ICAC said in a statement.

Demiralay's wife, Virginia Kantarzis, began working for Succuro in Janurary 2007, after which time, the commission noted that the business it did with the university had increased steadily.

"In total, the payments received by [Succuro] from the university amounted to AU$1,578,625. There was no dispute that these payments were largely a result of Mr Demiralay using [Succuro] to fill the majority of contractor positions within his unit."

The ICAC's report found that Succuro wasn't growing its business elsewhere. By mid-2008, when Demiralay and Kantarzis had a direct financial stake in the success of the business, Succuro was "largely dependent on the university as most, if not all, of its business came from the university."

The report also addresses Demiralay's claims that he simply didn't read the university's guidelines. According to the ICAC, Demiralay was provided with the university's Code of Conduct when he began employment in October 2006. He was then provided with a draft of an updated Code in August 2009, and asked to read it to provide feedback, prior to its introduction in September 2009. At its introduction, staff were required to electronically confirm that they had read the code, which Demiralay did, however, at all stages at which the code was provided to him, he told the ICAC that he had not read it.

"Whether or not Mr Demiralay is to be believed when he claims he did not read relevant university policies or procedures, for the reasons outlined below, the [ICAC] is satisfied that he was sufficiently aware of what the code required, to know that he was in breach of his obligations."

Although Demiralay has left his position at the university, making any recommendation by the ICAC to terminate his position void, his and his wife's act of providing the ICAC with false evidence could constitute a criminal offence.

The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) will ultimately determine whether any criminal charges should be laid against Demiralay and Kantarzis, but the ICAC's report has stated that the DPP's advice should be sought on whether the couple should be charged with giving false or misleading evidence under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.

Providing false and misleading evidence attracts a maximum penalty of AU$22,000 and/or imprisonment for five years.

The university itself has not escaped scrutiny by the ICAC either. In its report, the ICAC has made seven recommendations to assist in preventing corruption in the future.

These recommendations include that the University of Sydney establish a single point of access for employment of IT contractors, establish the probity and competence of alternate recruitment firms independent of university staff, and adopt an electronic approval system as a part of any major upgrade to its human resources systems.

The university has three months in which to respond to the recommendations and, if it intends to implement any of them, advise the ICAC of its progress 12 months after creating a plan of action.

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