Former Victorian government minister Adem Somyurek called his political allies on the day an expose was published into his branch stacking activities in an attempt to find out what else had been uncovered.
The Nine Network expose, published in June 2020, revealed Mr Somyurek had used his own cash to pay for other people’s Labor party memberships and enlisted the help of taxpayer-funded staff.
The practice, known as branch stacking, was done to boost his moderate faction’s influence and ensure preferred candidates were preselected. It is not illegal but it is against Labor party rules.
An Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry is investigating whether taxpayer funds were used for such work.
A late-night phone call between Mr Somyurek and his political ally and former minister Marlene Kairouz, made two days before the expose aired, was played to the inquiry on Thursday.
In it, the duo discusses what the story could be about.
“Branch stacking … is not against the law. That’s not corruption. But it could be about someone else,” Ms Kairouz said.
“It’s serious misconduct … Explosive new evidence of serious misconduct. What is it?” Mr Somyurek replies.
“F***ed if I know,” Ms Kairouz responds.
The duo goes on to mention “forms” and “different signatures”.
“You can change your signature every week,” Ms Kairouz said.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Chris Carr SC said the conversation proved it was “common knowledge … forgery was a practice that took place in this branch stacking operation”.
Mr Somyurek denied the claim and said they were referring to one individual in his office, who he believed forged signatures on membership forms.
In a private IBAC hearing, a former staffer said Mr Somyurek told her that if she couldn’t get hold of a member to sign their forms, then she should “just sign it”.
Mr Somryuek, however, said he did not provide “explicit direction” to the staffer, rather there was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“We collectively did not tackle the issue,” he said.
The inquiry also heard Mr Somyurek deleted text messages in which he discussed forging signatures.
The day the expose was published, Mr Somyurek again hit the phones, calling City of Dandenong councillor Loi Truong, a factional ally who had chosen a staffer to work in his electorate officer.
Mr Somyurek admitted to signing timesheets for the woman in late August-early September 2019 despite never meeting her.
In the phone call, Mr Somyurek said he was concerned the woman may have been talking to journalists.
“The Vietnamese girl that you put in, I don’t know much about her, is she a problem? Cause they’re going to check all my staff,” he said.
“She (is) loyal with us 100 per cent, 100 per cent, don’t worry. She’s good. She will do what we want,” Mr Truong said.
Mr Somyurek also called MP Robin Scott to discuss what excuses he could use for him not having met staff.
“You’re busy, you’re a minister,” Mr Scott suggested.
During Thursday’s evidence, Mr Somyurek also denied he told a staffer to buy up to $14,000 worth of stamps using his electoral budget, which was redirected to Mordialloc MP Tim Richardson’s 2018 re-election campaign.
“I have no recollection of that at all,” Mr Somyurek said.
Mr Somyurek, who quit the Labor party before he was expelled, will continue to give evidence to the inquiry on Friday.
Both Ms Kairouz and Mr Scott deny stacking allegations.