John McRoberts (right) pleaded not guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice. (ABC News: Alyssa Betts)
Former top cop denied sexual relationship rumour at bureaucrat Christmas party, court hears
A woman at the heart of a travel agent fraud investigation in the Northern Territory tried to deliver a birthday cake to former police commissioner John McRoberts, Darwin’s Supreme Court has heard.
Alexandra ‘Xana’ Kamitsis, the former Crime Stoppers NT chairwoman who ran a Darwin travel agency, was the main target of an investigation into 27 travel agents suspected of defrauding the NT Health Department.
Mr McRoberts pleaded not guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice for conduct between May and November 2014, when he allegedly attempted to deflect the investigation, known as Operation Subutai.
He admitted in evidence to the court that the pair had previously had a sexual relationship.
Mr McRoberts’ former executive assistant Pauline Benaim gave evidence at the trial of her former boss on Thursday regarding the birthday cake.
“Do you recall receiving a phone call from Ms Kamitsis on Mr McRoberts’ birthday?” asked prosecutor Michael McHugh SC.
“Yes, she asked whether she could deliver a birthday cake at the office to him,” Ms Benaim replied.
“He said he didn’t believe it was appropriate, and [asked] if I could convey that message to Ms Kamitsis.”
Ms Benaim told the court Mr McRoberts birthday was in October and Kamitsis’s request to bring him the cake occurred “probably” in 2014.
Clinton Sims, who was acting superintendent of crime for NT Police in 2014, gave evidence that Mr McRoberts was walking around seeming “irate” and “irritated” during a meeting about the investigation in June that year.
According to Mr Sims, who is now an acting commander with Border Force, at the start of the meeting Mr McRoberts told senior officers present he did not have a personal conflict of interest with the matter.
“He said he had a social relationship with Ms Kamitsis, he knew her, but he was not in conflict,” Acting Commander Sims said.
He said Mr McRoberts then spoke about a plan to set up a joint taskforce of police and departmental officers to deal with the travel agent rorting.
“He said he’d come up with an idea of forming a taskforce for this investigation, he highlighted that he believed the priority should be about recovering Territory funds,” he said.
During an extensive cross-examination, Mr McRoberts’ lawyer Anthony Elliot questioned Mr Sims’ memory of the meeting, stating that brief notes made about it did not match up with Mr Sims’ evidence.
Mr Sims replied that he remembered the meeting clearly because of the way Mr McRoberts was behaving.
“He was quite irate… This was very much an environment where we were being told,” he said.
“It wasn’t an open conversation or an exchange of ideas.”
‘Does anyone know what we’re doing?’
Jan Currie, who has been executive director for the NT Health Department’s chief executive office since 2011 and chaired the joint taskforce, also gave evidence.
According to Ms Currie, NT Health Department CEO Len Notaras told her she would be chairing the taskforce, but he did not properly explain its purpose.
This was still unclear at the group’s initial meeting in August, Ms Currie said.
“I asked him what the taskforce was going to be doing; he was vague on the details of that,” Ms Currie said.
“It took a couple of meetings for us to work out what we were going to do.
“I recall saying, ‘does anyone know what we’re doing?'”
Alexandra ‘Xana’ Kamitsis leaves court flanked by her lawyers Peter Maley (left) and Jon Tippett (right) (ABC: Xavier La Canna)
Ms Currie said Commander David Proctor, who was acting assistant police commissioner at the time, said he would “go back and find out”, because he wasn’t clear on the taskforce’s role, either.
Ms Currie said at some point the taskforce group discussed sending “letters of demand” to travel agents suspected of fraud, which concerned Detective Sergeant Jason Blake.
“To write to each agent asking them to provide documentation to substantiate claims they’d made on behalf of pensioners… he was concerned about loss of data,” Ms Currie said.
“He was also concerned about the civil and criminal suggestion of progressing this matter.”
Ms Currie said she handed the matter of Kamitsis and her business Latitude Travel to police taskforce members in November 2014, after an initial letter seeking her cooperation had been sent.
“If we gave any further extensions, they [police members of the taskforce] were worried about the deleting of data or destroying of evidence and data,” she said.