Lawyer Anthony Elliot and former commissioner John McRoberts arrive for the second day of the trial. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Former Northern Territory police commissioner John McRoberts has been accused of vetoing a search warrant for the major target of a travel agent fraud investigation — Alexandra “Xana” Kamitsis.
Commander James O’Brien, who was the detective superintendent overseeing the NT Police crime division in 2014, gave evidence on the second day of Mr McRoberts’ trial.
Mr McRoberts has pleaded not guilty before a jury in the Darwin Supreme Court to attempting to pervert the course of justice between May and November 2014.
It’s alleged he undermined an investigation into the defrauding of the NT Health Department’s pensioner travel scheme by travel agents because of his intimate relationship with Kamitsis, one of its targets.
The court heard the fraud investigation, initially named Operation Holden, focused on 27 travel agents and Xana Kamitsis and her agency Latitude Travel, also known as Winnellie Travel, became a test case for police.
Commander O’Brien told prosecutor Michael McHugh SC he was informed a search warrant for Kamitsis and her business had been vetoed by Mr McRoberts in early 2014, before her eventual arrest in November that year.
He told the court that in his “23 years of experience” he had never seen a commissioner intervene in such a way.
“A warrant had been raised by the Operation Holden team and it had been vetoed by the commissioner,” Commander O’Brien said.
“That’s the first time I’d heard of it.
“Search warrants are decided, at the highest point, by a superintendent.”
‘He was upset’
Commander O’Brien told the court that on the Monday after Katmisis was arrested, he attended a meeting with Mr McRoberts, then-acting deputy commissioner Mark Payne and assistant commissioner Reece Kershaw to discuss the arrest.
“Mr McRoberts seemed to be quite irritated about how that investigation had unfolded over the past week, culminating in the arrest of Xana Kamitsis,” Commander O’Brien said.
“He had raised his voice, he was abrupt — he was upset with the way she had been treated.”
“Mr McRoberts declared that he had not spoken to Ms Kamitsis about the investigation and that the conflict was not a conflict.”
Questioning from Mr McRoberts’ lawyer Anthony Elliot focused on the NT Health Department’s “maladministration” of the pensioner concession scheme, and a suggestion information needed for the fraud investigation was not readily available.
Commander O’Brien agreed there had been ongoing problems with the NT Health Department meeting NT Police fraud squad requests.
“My personal view was they were reluctant to refer it to police because it would look bad,” Commander O’Brien said.
The court also heard the NT Health department was looking for “alternatives” to resolve travel agent rorting.
The five-week trial continues on Thursday.