Victoria Ibac: Former Labor MP accused journalists of racism to avoid scrutiny, investigation finds | Victoria


Former Victorian Minister of Labor Adem Somyurek and his political protégé accused journalists of racism in an attempt to prevent them from investigating taxpayer-funded subsidies to their cross-faction allies, an investigation has found.

Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti, who was mentored by Somyurek, told the Independent Anti-Corruption Commission inquiry on Tuesday that he had helped the Australian Somali Council in Victoria (Sacov) secure several grants.

This included $ 100,000 under the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Prevention Partnership Program in 2019, which was overseen by Gaming Minister Marlene Kairouz.

Financial records obtained by Ibac revealed that Sacov received approximately $ 75,000 from the government, of which $ 50,000 was spent on salaries and wages, $ 7,000 on videos, $ 6,000 on administration and $ 4,200 on training.

Assistant lawyer Chris Carr SC told the inquest that salaries, training costs and $ 4,500 in video costs went directly to the organization’s founder and secretary, Hussein Haraco. Garotti said he was shocked by this.

The commission heard that Garotti and Haraco were allies in the moderate faction of the Labor Party, led by Somyurek, and contributed thousands of dollars a year to pay for the memberships of others in the Heidelberg branch.

The practice, known as branch stacking, was put in place to bolster faction influence and ensure the pre-selection of preferred candidates.

It is not illegal but it is against the rules of the Labor Party. Ibac is investigating whether taxpayer funds and money intended for community associations have been used for such work.

Garotti said he had “no idea” what the grant was for or what Sacov would do with it, but helped Haraco because he was a “faction ally who should be rewarded for his faction activity.”

Carr told that commission that when reporters contacted Haraco to ask about the grants, Garotti and Somyurek discussed the allegations of racism in response.

“(Say) I’m sorry, but black people right now are very, it’s a time of great sensitivity, and I’m very sensitive and that’s part of racism. Can you go that hard? Somyurek said in the secretly taped phone conversation obtained by Ibac.

“We’re talking about Black Lives Matter, it’s not just the police, it’s also the journalists, it’s the media, go hard.”

The duo also wrote an email response to a reporter on behalf of Haraco.

“The Somali community is fed up with journalists like you accusing us of stacking branches… is it because we are black? the email reads.

Asked by Carr if the duo fabricated racism to make journalists tremble, Garotti said Somyurek “used racism as a cover to keep people out of dark corners where his secrets are hidden.”

The investigation learned that Haraco had recruited around 300 members for the Heidelberg branch over a decade, of which about a third, according to Garotti, were “not genuine.”

Somyurek left Labor after Nine aired branch stacking allegations last year, but retained his seat in the upper house, while Kariouz resigned from cabinet. Both deny wrongdoing.

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