Greed gets the better of cop


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 13 Apr 2003

By JEFFREY FRANCIS

GREED is more powerful than fear, equity investors are often reminded. So beware of greed, the blinding emotion that can trigger personal disaster. 

For greed was the cause of an experienced senior police officer becoming incredibly naive, if not stupid, when he broke into a storage unit and attempted to steal what he believed was A$1.2mil in drug money. 

As a member of the Western Australian Police Service for more than 20 years, he knows only too well that surveillance, particularly electronic surveillance these days, is the best means of catching a criminal in action. 

Yet he seems recklessly imprudent to even try to commit an illegal act right under the nose of the Royal Commission into Police Corruption, which put him under the same electronic surveillance – without his knowledge, of course – since August last year. 

Not surprisingly, he was caught red-handed in videotapes on Jan 31, using bolt-cutters to break into Freeway Stores in Rivervale and holding a bundle of cash in his gloved hands. 

The tapes were taken from hidden cameras inside and outside the building in a sting, jointly organised by the royal commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), to test the officer’s integrity after a number of police rollover witnesses had named several allegedly corrupt detectives. 

Not that the detective-sergeant, codenamed T2, was unaware of the damning evidence given at the commission’s hearing early this year. 

The sensational confessions of several former and present detectives, who gave details of their corrupt activities and naming other officers allegedly involved, have had widespread publicity. 

Moreover, T2 had been investigated previously for allegedly stealing A$312,000 in January 2000 from an American Ecstasy dealer and A$45,000 from a Malaysian businessman, Joseph Lau, in mid-2001. 

All the more he should have been careful not to do what he did recently. 

The royal commission was told at its resumed hearing last week that Lau, who runs Tiger Batteries in Welshpool, was a prime suspect in an alleged A$3mil money-laundering scam using Burswood Casino chips. But he was never charged after T2 allegedly stole A$45,000 from him. 

T2 was the investigating officer of the case, believed to have started as a A$3mil credit card fraud involving a number of Malaysians who had visited Australia. 

Lau, it was alleged, had received a cheque for A$1.5mil which he then exchanged at Burswood Casino for 30 chips, each worth A$50,000. 

He told Royal Commissioner Geoffrey Kennedy that he exchanged the chips for cash over a period of time and transferred the money to contacts in Malaysia. 

In July 2001, however, he stopped the transfer of the final A$50,000 at T2’s request. After taking his expenses out of the bank account, he withdrew A$45,000 in cash for T2. 

Before he handed over two bundles of A$20,000 each, Lau asked T2 for a A$5,000 loan because he was short of money. T2 agreed. 

But he had trouble explaining to his contacts in Malaysia what had happened to the A$50,000. They “couldn’t give a damn what happened or who took the money – grandfather or grandmother,” Lau said last week. “They wanted the money back so I had to pay them.” 

When shown a secret video in which he was seen handing some cash to T2, Lau explained it was one of the repayments, a few hundred dollars each time, that he was making towards the loan. 

The video is the second shown in two successive days of last week’s commission hearing. Each had T2 holding bundles of cash in his hands. 

The first is after he had broken into the storage unit where T2 was filmed taking half of the A$20,000 planted by royal commission investigators.  

He had been led to believe that there would be A$1.2mil in drug money in the storage unit by a long-time friend and cohort, who has turned into a rollover witness, codenamed T1. 

The royal commission also heard bugged telephone calls between T2 and Lau over several months during which their conversations were on friendly terms. 

T2, who was immediately suspended from all operational duties after last week’s revelation, is one of 18 police officers who have been stood down, quit or restricted to desk duties. Those suspended have to surrender their police identification and are banned from entering any police premises. 

Senior counsel assisting the royal commission, Peter Hastings QC, said T2 was likely to face criminal charges. 

The extent of the government efforts to stamp out corruption in Western Australia can be judged from a report tabled in State Parliament on Thursday. 

In it, the ACC reveals that it had secretly bugged 61,999 phone calls in six months to Dec 31 last year. The bugging was in connection with its investigations into 270 cases of alleged corruption involving police officers and public servants. 

The cases are represented by 47% involving police officers, 32% public servants and 16% local council employees. 

Since November 1996 to the end of last year, the ACC has investigated 2,812 cases of alleged corruption or serious misconduct involving more than 4,000 public officers. 

To catch the crooked cops, the royal commission relies on the phone bugging and surveillance work of the ACC. 

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the royal commission’s inquiry is the suicide of a 52-year-old police sergeant on March 24. He killed himself the day before the royal commission was to announce whether the names of officers, accused by the rollover witnesses, would be released publicly. 

In the end, the royal commission ruled that the suppression order on the names would continue until at least the rollover witnesses had been cross-examined or the officers had a chance to rebut allegations of corruption. 

Last week, the sergeant’s only son hit out at the royal commission for the “disgusting and appalling way” it had handled the inquiry. 

“It was all so unnecessary and could have been handled so differently,” he said. 

He described his father as a proud and respected police officer whose life had been “wasted” by being named as being possibly involved in corrupt activity when he was not even in one of the rollover witnesses’ teams. 

In any case, the alleged incident took place more than 20 years ago, which is outside the scope of the royal commission’s terms of reference. 

As such, that part of the evidence is not relevant to the inquiry. Its removal would have spared the anxiety and worry of the sergeant even if the suspicion seemed overwhelming. 

But it was not. As the royal commission’s letter to the grieving family last week states, no adverse finding would be made against the sergeant, nor would his name be in its final report to the government. 

The reason is obvious. The royal commission has no jurisdiction to decide on the matter since it is outside the scope of its terms of reference. 

By accepting the evidence in the first instance is, perhaps, an unfortunate oversight that will almost certainly receive closer attention in future inquiries. 

  • Jeffrey Francis is editorial consultant, Australasia-Pacific Media (e-mail: francis1@nw.com.au ) 


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