The NT top cop’s ‘ingenious’ plan to pervert the course of justice
On the eve of John McRoberts’ birthday in October 2014, the former Northern Territory police commissioner told Alexandra ‘Xana’ Kamitsis he was sad and lonely.
“Probably the most lonely and sad birthday I can remember but shit happens :-),” he said in a text message, read aloud to a Supreme Court jury.
He urged her to “use Viber!” texting that it would be a safer way to communicate.
That morning Kamitsis had wished him a happy birthday: “Enjoy your day at your desk.. You could have been enjoying warm Portuguese tarts.. Lol xx”.
During the day McRoberts had been briefed by his deputy Mark Payne about the progress of an investigation, targeting Kamitsis.
McRoberts’ plan to keep his relationship a secret was failing.
One month later, Kamitsis’ Darwin travel agency was searched, her mobile phone and computers were seized, and she was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a police van.
NT police arrested arrested Alexandra “Xana” Kamitsis at a travel agency in Winnellie. (ABC News: Michael Coggan)
Kamitsis had become a “test case” for an investigation known as Operation Subutai, which was looking into 27 travel agents suspected of defrauding the NT Health Department’s pensioner travel concession scheme.
Thousands of text messages were downloaded from Kamitsis’ phone, revealing a sexual relationship between the pair from at least 2012 until the month before her arrest in November 2014.
McRoberts had known about the potential arrest of Kamitsis from at least May 2014.
At the time McRoberts told senior officers he knew Kamitsis “socially,” that they were “friends” who saw each other at Crime Stoppers NT functions, that there wasn’t a conflict of interest.
Kamitsis was the Crime Stoppers NT chairwoman in 2014.
“We’re probably going to lock her up,” then assistant commissioner Reece Kershaw told him during a briefing, a comment he said was designed to test McRoberts’ reaction.
“If she has to be charged, she has to be charged,” McRoberts replied, which Mr Kershaw said reassured him.
Kamitsis, pictured with the former NT chief minister Adam Giles at a social gathering. (Supplied)
Just a few weeks earlier in April, McRoberts had been texting Kamitsis.
“Come over!” he said.
“I so wish I could.. I don’t have a car!! I so want to make love to you …,” she replied.
McRoberts decided not to declare the full extent of his relationship with Kamitsis, as his police code of conduct and employment contract both required.
Instead he met his friend Len Notaras for coffee, who had just accepted the role of chief executive at the NT Health Department.
McRoberts started promoting an “alternative approach” for Operation Subutai.
“Mr McRoberts mentioned that there were issues with the pensioner concession scheme that I may or not be aware of,” Mr Notaras told the court.
“[He said] words to the effect of, ‘one of the agents is known to both of us’.”
During this catch-up McRoberts suggested sending travel agents suspected of fraud civil debt notices, which gave them a chance to pay money back before overt criminal action was taken.
“He expressed concerns about the tourist industry,” Mr Notaras said.
Operation Subutai was given a major crime declaration later in May and fraud squad investigators were preparing to execute a search warrant on their priority target, Kamitsis.
The warrant was signed off by a registrar and ready to go on June 4, 2014 when a meeting was called with their boss.
“This is not ready to go to an overt investigation,” McRoberts told his deputies, before listing questions he wanted followed-up.
Later that month he took the investigation file into his office and reviewed it before telling investigators: “This file does not appear to me to represent two years of investigative work”.
He questioned the decision to choose Kamitsis as the “test case”: “Why do we start here?” he asked.
Then acting superintendent of crime Clinton Sims described McRoberts as “irate” during a meeting in late June, where senior officers were “being told” the matter was “more of a civil nature than a criminal nature”.
McRoberts again assured his colleagues he wasn’t conflicted.
A few days later McRoberts briefed then chief minister Adam Giles, then health minister Robyn Lambley and then NT Health Department chief executive Len Notaras on the investigation.
They agreed to set up an inter-agency taskforce to oversee the alternative civil strategy, despite Mr Giles making it clear he wanted to “go hard” on the travel agents.
“It was extraordinary for me because I’d never been involved in anything like that before, where you have 27 businesses possibly defrauding the Government,” Ms Lambley told the court.
Former NT health minister Robyn Lambley also gave evidence in the trial about a meeting with McRoberts. (ABC News: Ian Redfearn)
The travel agents found guilty of fraud, including Kamitsis who was jailed in 2015, submitted phony invoices to the scheme for inflated flight costs.
They booked pensioners on cheaper flights and pocketed the difference, or didn’t purchase the flights at all.
In July 2014 McRoberts asked then acting deputy commissioner Mark Payne to flesh out his civil strategy in writing for the taskforce.
“He told me that he felt that the strategy was ingenious and I should be commended,” acting deputy commissioner Mr Payne told the court.
Later that month McRoberts told Kamitsis about a bad day at work and she offered to bring him curry for dinner.
“Had a day from hell. Had to call a meeting with my senior exec then visit one of my people badly hurt in Mitchell St last night,” he texted.
They arranged to meet that evening.
“Sweet dreams big boy xx”, Kamitsis texted afterwards.
Northern Territory Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said he made a comment designed to test McRoberts’ reaction. (ABC News: Felicity James)
On the Monday after Kamitsis was arrested, Reece Kershaw confronted his boss.
“Body language wise he did rock back and say words to the effect of, ‘It’s not true, that’s not true’,” he told the court.
“He went a little bit pale.”
McRoberts then reassured Mr Payne he wasn’t “conflicted”.
At a Christmas party of departmental executives in 2014, after the arrest of Kamitsis, McRoberts made a similar denial to the NT’s former top bureaucrat Gary Barnes.
“Mr McRoberts told me that the rumour was untrue and that I knew him to be a professional and that he had the matter in hand. That there was nothing to worry about,” he told the court.
McRoberts’ plan to protect himself or Kamitsis from being exposed through a search warrant failed, but the jury in his trial did not need to pay attention to that.
The fact that he intended to pervert the course of justice with “a course of conduct” between May and November 2014 was enough.
The jury took about nine hours to deliberate on the case, delivering a majority verdict on Thursday afternoon.
Senior police, bureaucrats and ministers who served under the Country Liberals government in 2014 gave evidence in the trial, which lasted more than five weeks.
Police witnesses with decades of experience told the jury they had never seen a commissioner “come down from the arena” and get involved in a search warrant or operational file in this way.
McRoberts has been granted bail and will appear in the Supreme Court in Darwin on June 25, 2018 for the sentencing hearing.
“He has no family or friends here,” his lawyer Anthony Elliot told the judge during the bail application.
“What he does have is a very long career as a police officer, an outstanding career.”
“He’s a man who is otherwise a man of integrity, that integrity has been demonstrated over the years.”
Prosecutor Mary Chalmers opposed the bail application, noting the serious nature of the charge and McRoberts “inevitable” imprisonment.
McRoberts is facing a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.