Monday, June 16, 2008

Fortress of corruption where whistleblowers were silenced and sidelined

Natalie O'Brien From: The Australian June 16, 2008 12:00AM

WHEN Australian Federal Police officer Wayne Sievers was handed an envelope stuffed with cash he was so angry he ripped it in half and threw it at the feet of the man who had given it to him - his superior officer.

They had been carrying out a search warrant and the sergeant in charge of the job told Sievers it was his share of the take.

"I went ballistic at him," Sievers recalls.

"I had reached the Rubicon and decided to act. I made a complaint to a more senior officer, not knowing then that he was close to the apex of a network of corruption. I was immediately punished with a transfer to a non-operational area."

It was 1989, and Sievers had been working in the AFP's infamous Sydney Drug Unit for six years. From time to time, he worked with top criminal investigator Mark Standen, who is now facing charges of conspiring to smuggle $120 million worth of chemicals used to make the deadly designer drug ice.

"I never saw him do anything wrong," Sievers says. "It was probably guilt by association, but he was part of the group that I tried to stay away from. I called them the golden peacocks. It was a very strange time, a bit like living in a low-rent version of Miami Vice."

Sievers was one of a number of people who unsuccessfully tried to blow the whistle on what was happening within the AFP joint drugs taskforce at the time.

Similarly, warnings from former AFP internal affairs officer Ray Cooper went unheeded.

Cooper particularly warned Standen's bosses in the late 1980s about his suspicious behaviour, and asked that an intelligence report be prepared on him. Cooper said he was investigating corrupt cops in Sydney at the time that he reported Standen to his superiors. However, he never heard any more.

Within a few years, allegations of corruption within the AFP were raised yet again, this time at the Wood royal commission into the NSW police, which was held from 1994 to 1997. After sensational revelations by an ex-AFP officer, Detective Sergeant Alan Taciak, who had rolled over in the Wood commission and admitted he was part of the problem in the drug unit, the federal government ordered an inquiry headed by Sydney barrister Ian Harrison QC. It pieced together the trail of corruption of some officers that began when the Customs Narcotics Bureau merged with the newly formed AFP in 1979.

Dozens of officers with affiliations to the AFP drug unit in Sydney, the joint drugs taskforce and the old narcotics bureau were named in that inquiry. The report was classified, but the Commonwealth Ombudsman was called on to implement the Harrison inquiry's recommendations.

The Ombudsman's office said in its annual report for 1996-97 that seven AFP officers were sacked and a number of others were being investigated. A subsequent report said further investigations took place but the results, and whether more agents were sacked or asked to leave, were never publicly revealed.

Cooper, who retired from the AFP for a new life as a publican, says the Harrison inquiry was a whitewash.

"All it did was create golden handshakes," he says. "Many of them (the officers named) were allowed to leave and then went on to run powerful organisations.

"It is pleasing to see Mark Standen was investigated properly, this time by the AFP -- but it should have happened 20 years ago. If it had, then we wouldn't be embarrassed now."

Both Cooper and Sievers want to know how many more Mark Standens are out there who have been named in inquiries.

"The big questions are who knew what, when did they know it, what they did with this knowledge and what was their duty at the time of acquiring the knowledge," Sievers says.

Standen left the AFP in 1996, the year before the Harrison inquiry made its report. The AFP has said he took a voluntary redundancy with a clean record.

Sievers wants to know if others were tapped on the shoulder and told to resign or face prosecution, and whether that allowed them to recycle back into law-enforcement agencies when they should have been charged.

Former NSW policeman turned academic Michael Kennedy told a 2001 inquiry into the National Crime Authority that some AFP officers had been sacked after the Harrison inquiry, but others were allowed to leave the force quietly.

"What government organisations are they working in under the capacity of investigators?" Mr Kennedy asked.

Sievers has called for a body with special oversight, something similar to a National Integrity Commission, appropriately funded and resourced with powers to assume responsibility for national integrity and anti-corruption operations at the state and federal level.

He says it should have "oversight by judicial officers and police ministers, rather than police commissioners".

"Organisations such as the AFP and the Australian Building and Construction Commission now have so much unaccountable power that oversight is needed to protect the democratic rights of people," he says.

George Williams, professor of public law at the University of NSW, says dedicated parliamentary oversight is needed for law-enforcement agencies.

"I think that is appropriate," Williams says. "Over recent years the AFP has exploded in numbers and responsibility."

No comments:

Post a Comment