Red shirt probe ‘to wrap up after poll’
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.