$4m fraud al­leged

Charges rock wel­fare sec­tor

Herald Sun - - NEWS - aneeka.si­mo­nis@news.com.au ANEEKA SI­MO­NIS MARK BUTTLER

A PROM­I­NENT African com­mu­nity leader has been charged over a $4 mil­lion fraud and with steal­ing wel­fare money.

Abe­selom Nega, 54, is ac­cused of dozens of se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial crimes, in­clud­ing dis­hon­estly ob­tain­ing $4.2 mil­lion paid to his per­sonal bank ac­count and to his com­pany iEm­power be­tween 2008 and 2019.

He is also charged with steal­ing $25,300 from the com­pany, which helps di­vert trou­bled African youths from the jus­tice sys­tem.

Charge sheets al­lege he lied about his qual­i­fi­ca­tions to get onto the board of the Vic­to­rian Equal Op­por­tu­nity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion.

Fraud squad de­tec­tives have been in­ves­ti­gat­ing Mr Nega for up to two years.

The probe was pro­longed by the need to trans­late for­eign-lan­guage tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions.

Mr Nega is ac­cused of pro­duc­ing false doc­u­ments as part of the fraud, which de­tec­tives al­lege he used to get tens of thou­sands of dol­lars with­drawn in cash to be given to iEm­power clients “need­ing cash im­me­di­ately”.

He is ac­cused of pock­et­ing the money and fal­si­fy­ing the com­pany’s an­nual fi­nan­cial state­ments to con­ceal his al­leged of­fend­ing.

Mr Nega is well con­nected to key state and fed­eral de­ci­sion mak­ers through his work and is a reg­u­lar com­men­ta­tor on mul­ti­cul­tural is­sues in the me­dia.

He was pre­vi­ously a com­mis­sioner of the Vic­to­rian Mul­ti­cul­tural Com­mis­sion, a mem­ber of the An­drews Gov­ern­ment African Min­is­te­rial Work­ing Group and chair of the Au­dit and Risk Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee.

His other roles in­clude board mem­ber of Na­tional Ac­cred­i­ta­tion Author­ity for In­ter­preters and Trans­la­tors and chair of the Mel­bourne Em­ploy­ment Fo­rum.

He al­legedly dis­hon­estly ob­tained $21,578 by “pro­vid­ing false and mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion in his cur­ricu­lum vi­tae, which re­sulted in his ap­point­ment as a board mem­ber of the Vic­to­rian Equal Op­por­tu­nity and Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion” from Oc­to­ber 2012 to Au­gust 2018.

Mr Nega’s al­leged of­fend­ing has sent shock­waves through the state’s wel­fare sec­tor.

He is charged with con­spir­ing to­gether with Daniel Nega to in­ten­tion­ally cause se­ri­ous in­jury to Richard Ryan, the op­er­a­tions man­ager at iEm­power.

iEm­power also sup­ports dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple with mi­grant or refugee back­grounds.

On Wed­nes­day, Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court heard for­mal state­ments from con­sul­tants, ac­coun­tants and col­leagues of Mr Nega were still be­ing sought by de­tec­tives.

Mag­is­trate Marita Alt­man or­dered the state­ments be pro­vided to the court by Au­gust 26.

Mr Nega is on bail and will re­turn to court on Septem­ber 23.

Abe­selom Nega, a prom­i­nent fig­ure in Vic­to­ria’s African com­mu­nity, faces dozens of fraud charges.

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