The police officer in charge of the Northern Territory’s fraud squad raised concerns a civil “debt collection” strategy for travel agents suspected of fraud was risky and unethical, a court has heard.
Detective Sergeant Jason Blake has given evidence at the trial of former NT police commissioner John McRoberts, who pleaded not guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice between May and November 2014.
Mr McRoberts is accused of trying to deflect an investigation into travel agents rorting the NT Health Department’s pensioner concession scheme, because his intimate friend Xana Kamitsis and her business were a major target.
Detective Sergeant Blake told the court he opposed a plan discussed by an inter-agency taskforce, made up of police and departmental officers, to send “letters of cooperation” to travel agents, ahead of pursuing criminal action.
“We don’t often write to fraud offenders, or alleged fraud offenders, asking them to quantify what they have been doing,” he told the court.
“The strategy of asking them to tell us what they’ve stolen didn’t seem logical to me.”
Approach was ‘problematic’, court hears
In an email to taskforce members, including then-acting assistant commissioner David Protcor, Detective Sergeant Blake set out a list of concerns about the “problematic” civil approach.
“The overall concept is problematic and we are creating additional risks to any civil or criminal prosecution,” Detective Sergeant Blake said in the email shown to the jury.
“It is my opinion there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct.
“A senior crown prosecutor with the DPP, who has been described by the director as “the DPPs fraud man”, has reviewed the matter and indicated that there has been a reasonable prospect of prosecution should the matter be put before the judiciary.”
But the court heard that despite this advice from the NT Director of Public Prosecution’s senior prosecutor David Morters, it was then asked by police to prepare a second opinion on the travel agent investigation.
Detective Sergeant Blake told the court the DPP was “not happy” about the request.
The court heard acting assistant commissioner David Proctor met with Detective Sergeant Blake soon after his email was sent.
“Jason, I have some issues with this email,” the acting assistant commissioner said in a reply email.
“Please make arrangements to come and see me.”
Detective Sergeant Blake was removed as the “police head” of the inter-agency taskforce soon after, the court heard.
Flights to Timor-Leste found
The court also heard further details about what was found on the day Kamitsis’ business Latitude Travel was searched and she was arrested in June 2014.
“She had a number of items in a back store office in relation to flight details with Mr John McRoberts,” Detective Sergeant Blake said.
“There were flights to Dili.”
Mr McRoberts’ lawyer Anthony Elliot focused his questions on the health department’s responsiveness to the fraud squad, including a suggestion the department was reluctant to refer suspected fraud to police.
“They took months and months and months,” Mr Elliot said.
“That’s correct,” Detective Sergeant Blake replied.