Samoan casino plan emerges in Australian M.P.'s corruption hearing
Alleged plans to build a casino in Samoa became the centre of an anti-corruption investigation into a veteran Australian M.P. accused of brokering deals across the Asia-Pacific for profit.
Daryl Maguire, a 20-year veteran of the New South Wales Parliament, resigned under a corruption cloud in 2018.
A public hearing by the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (I.C.A.C.) heard intercepted phone calls in which Mr. Maguire apparently referred to plans to open a casino in Samoa which he characterised as close to completion. The M.P. expected to receive a commission from the project, the Commission heard, which was being run in concert with Chinese business associates.
Among the charges against him is an allegation that Mr. Maguire applied for a casino licence in Samoa in 2017.
The counsel assisting the I.C.A.C., Scott Robertson, suggested on Monday that an intercepted phone call suggested Mr. Maguire was involved in the development of a casino in Samoa and had a financial interest in the project.
“So, so Samoa is definitely a go (certainty),” Mr. Maguire in a phone call to his close associate Phil Elliott on 9 December 2017.
“So we’re gonna visit them in the next round and then um, March is um, after the wedding, um 10 days in Samoa.
“So we’ll probably – we’re just teeing up some meetings for the Prime Minister and all those other people.”
Mr. Maguire made reference to a business partner referred to only as ‘Li’, whose identity was not established but was apparently acting with a group of other Chinese businessmen on the Samoa casino project and, seemingly, other business ventures in the Pacific.
“And they’re bringing, they’re bringing a dozen business people [...] they’re bringing their own jet and um, calling in here and then going to Samoa and then come back to drop us off on the way back,” Mr. Maguire said.
It is alleged that not only Mr. Maguire, but a group he was involved in, the Shenzhen Asia Pacific Commercial Development Association (S.A.P.C.D.A.), would have had financial interests in such a project.
S.A.P.C.D.A. was led by Ho Yuen Li but it was not established if he was the Chinese businessman referred to in the phone calls.
Mr. Maguire is facing allegations of using his office for personal gain, particularly as an intermediary between businesses and Governments in the Asia-Pacific.
Counsel Robertson said he had interpreted the intercepted phone calls to mean that Mr. Maguire believed that plans to develop a casino were well advanced.
“Evidence available to the Commission suggests that the reference by Mr Maguire to “Samoa is definitely a go” may have been a reference to a casino being developed in Samoa by business interests connected with S.A.P.C.D.A.,” he said on Monday.
“The call suggested Mr Maguire and/or [an associated company] G8way International may have had a financial interest in that project, with the result that if the project succeeded, there may have been – as Mr Elliott put it – “a bit of cash flow back in the tin”.
“The Commission will use Mr Maguire’s activities in Samoa as a case study to explore the adequacies of controls of friendship groups generally, and in particular to consider whether Mr Maguire improperly used his role and the accompanying diplomatic weight of his office as chair of the Asia Pacific Friendship Group.”
The call came just six months before Mr. Maguire, who had represented the seat of Wagga Wagga for 20 years, was forced out of office after it emerged he was under investigation for allegedly corrupt activity.
The I.C.A.C.’s Operation Keppel hearings into Mr. Maguire began on Monday into the question of whether Mr. Maguire abused his office for personal gain during 2012 and 2018.
Mr. Maguire was also the Chairman of the N.S.W. Parliament Asia Pacific Friendship Group.
A company called G8wayinternational, allegedly used Mr. Maguire’s official offices in Wagga Wagga offices for business purposes. Mr. Elliott was a director of the company; Mr. Maguire was not.
Counsel Robertson alleged that despite never being listed as such, Mr. Maguire was essentially the director of G8wayinternational and used it to make money.
The I.C.A.C. also alleges that Mr. Maguire accepted money for travel expenses to the Pacific by the S.A.P.C.D.A.’s leader Ho Yuen Li, as he never declared travel expenses for the visits.
Among the evidence presented in the hearing were emails between Mr. Maguire’s office and the then Chief Executive Office of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce Lemauga Hobart Vaai setting a meeting between them in April 2017.
During questioning on Monday afternoon, Mr. Elliot said he understood there was an old motel that was going to be refurbished and made into a casino. It was hoped that G8wayinternational would make a commission from its construction.
Asked how he knew that, he said Mr. Maguire told him.
Approached by the Samoa Observer, C.E.O. of the Samoa Chamber of Commerce Lemauga said Mr. Maguire did visit the Chamber in April 2017 with the delegation from S.A.P.C.D.A., and that they were looking for investment opportunities.
At the time, he referred them to the Government through the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour’s investment division, the Investment Promotion and Industry Development.
“[I am] not sure how far that conversation has gotten,” Lemauga said.
Mr. Maguire is also accused of being part of a “cash for visas” scheme, helping Chinese nations getting Australian visas in exchange for financial reward and using his office to land himself property deals and commissions from Chinese businesses looking to invest in Australian property.
The I.C.A.C. is not a court. But it is a body with the authority to investigate all levels of Government within N.S.W. It can make official findings that officials have been acted ‘corruptly’ and refer its investigations to the Police for further investigation.
Since its establishment in 1989 its investigations have caused the resignation of two of N.S.W.’s Premiers.
The Prime Minister’s office and Mr. Maguire were approached for comment on Tuesday.
The inquiry will continue for four weeks.