Red shirt probe ‘to wrap up af­ter poll’

The Australian - - THE NATION - SAMAN­THA HUTCHIN­SON

A Vic­to­rian fraud squad in­ves­ti­ga­tion into La­bor’s al­leged mis­use of MP staff al­lowances dur­ing the 2014 elec­tion could wrap up af­ter Novem­ber’s polling day, Chief Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton has said.

In a lengthy in­ter­view with ABC Ra­dio, Mr Ash­ton said Vic­to­ria Po­lice’s crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into La­bor’s “red shirts” pay­ment scheme was in its fi­nal stages and it was pos­si­ble a fi­nal de­ci­sion could be handed down af­ter the elec­tion.

As Pre­mier Daniel An­drews and Vic­to­rian La­bor ap­proach the end of their sec­ond week on the hus­tings still duck­ing ques­tions about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Mr Ash­ton said it was on­go­ing.

Fraud squad in­ves­ti­ga­tors are in dis­cus­sions with the Of­fice of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions to de­ter­mine whether there was a prospect of con­vict­ing La­bor mem­bers and in­di­vid­u­als who took part in the scheme, he said.

“They don’t want these things drag­ging on but at the same time these things have to be prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated, and le­gal ad­vice has to be sought and that’s the process that we’re go­ing through. I’m hop­ing that it is im­mi­nent,” Mr Ash­ton said.

Vic­to­rian fraud squad de­tec­tives an­nounced in July that they were launch­ing a crim­i­nal in­vesti- gation into the al­leged mis­use of MP staff al­lowances dur­ing the 2014 cam­paign.

Un­der the scheme in ques­tion, La­bor al­legedly used MP staff al­lowances to pay cam­paign­ers, dubbed “red shirts’’ for the dis­tinc­tive red T-shirts they wore, as they worked the cam­paign trail.

Yes­ter­day, Mr Ash­ton said Vic­to­ria Po­lice could not let the tim­ing of the elec­tion af­fect the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

He was also asked if he was at risk of a “James Comey mo­ment” — a ref­er­ence to the ac­tions of the for­mer head of the FBI who an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hil­lary Clin­ton’s use of a pri­vate email server two weeks be­fore the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The po­lice chief con­ceded the sug­ges­tion had been put to him “many times”, but said it would be im­proper to change the tim­ing of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause of the elec­tion.

“We can’t let the fact that there’s an elec­tion in­flu­ence the tim­ing of (in­ves­ti­ga­tions),” Mr Ash­ton said.

“That would be some­thing that would be im­proper, so it’s im­por­tant that once it’s fin­ished … and if it’s just prior to elec­tion or just af­ter, it should be in­con­se­quen­tial to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Mr Ash­ton also said the po­lice were look­ing into a re­fer­ral from Deputy Pre­mier James Mer­lino al­leg­ing there had been mis­use of staff al­lowances by Lib­eral cam­paign­ers dubbed “blue shirts”.

“That’s cur­rently still in the as­sess­ment phase and there’s in­for­ma­tion be­ing gath­ered around that to as­sess whether it will be a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion or not,” Mr Ash­ton said.

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