Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Secret society for select Victorian cops

Founded by a crooked cop

Is it a lunch forum for gentlemen to wax lyrical about sport and politics? Or a secret society founded on the old police boy’s network designed to trade black market information? Differing accounts have been offered today of the workings of The Brotherhood, a secretive group of up to 350 prominent men - including police officers, state government officials and lawyers - which has been meeting in inner-city Melbourne for the best part of a decade.

In a report tabled to parliament today, Ombudsman George Brouwer paints a worrying picture of the secret organisation, which he says was established to serve the interests of its mysterious founder. "The culture of the organisation ... encourages exclusivity and secrecy, with the potential for illegal and improper exchanges of information or favours," Mr Brouwer said in his report.

He found that a police officer on The Brotherhood list used his position at the traffic camera office to wipe $2000 worth of the founder’s speeding fines.

A senior police officer may have also disclosed the identity of a prosecution witness in a high profile murder investigation during a Brotherhood lunch, in breach of a Supreme Court suppression order.

The whistleblower who sparked the ombudsman’s investigation was also damning of the group, describing it as a secretive organisation that "engages in unlawful information trading", such as criminal record checks.

But those views are hotly contested by The Brotherhood’s founder, a former police officer and now company director who compares his organisation to Apex or Rotary.

Indeed, he is now even considering changing the name of the group from the Brotherhood, with its connotations of exclusivity and secrecy, to MOGI - Men of Good Ilk.

The report says The Brotherhood began in 2003 when the founder and an unidentified police inspector arranged a function for friends and business associates. Six to eight people, including lawyers, attended the first lunch.

The group has grown since then, with about 300 to 350 people on its circulation list - including a former Victoria Police officer with alleged links to an organised crime figure, a former Australian Wheat Board executive accused of involvement in the Iraq kickbacks scandal, and the manager of a table-top dancing club regulated by the police.

Two state MPs are also on the circulation list, however Mr Brouwer said he was confident they were added without their agreement.

Members of The Brotherhood are permitted to join the group at the discretion of the founder, who is described as a former Victoria Police officer who joined the force in 1988 before resigning in 1999 at the rank of senior constable. He now works as the managing director of two proprietary companies.

His record shows he came to the attention of the Victoria Police Internal Investigations Department on several occasions for disciplinary matters.

These included an assault on a member of the public, for which he was fined $200; negligence in the discharge of duty and providing a false and misleading statement to a police inspector during a disciplinary interview, for which he was fined $150; and engaging in paid secondary employment without approval, for which he was officially admonished.

The founder claims members of The Brotherhood are "men of good ilk", and could join the group if they were a "good bloke".

Until recently, The Brotherhood met at an inner-city venue about every six weeks. The founder invited a range of people to speak at lunches to entertain and purportedly provide an insight into their respective fields of expertise.

The founder organised the lunches, he claimed, to bring "business associates and businessmen together to have a common goal in relation to business networking and business insight and business information".

When interviewed in September last year, the founder said there was "nothing at all’ in it for him.

The group was not secretive and had donated to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal and breast cancer research, he said, comparing the organisation to Apex and Rotary.

During lunches, he said, The Brotherhood members talked about issues ranging from sport to politics, and no unlawful information trading took place.

But a witness who attended lunches said the founder would state at the beginning of a lunch: "We’re all members of The Brotherhood and we must assist each other".

The founder admitted he told those at the lunches that ‘Chatham rules’ apply– that is, "What’s said in the room stays in the room".

Mr Brouwer said he did not believe The Brotherhood had approached the dimensions of the so-called Information Exchange Club, which was founded on the old-boy police network in NSW and was the subject of an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into the unauthorised release of confidential information by government authorities in the 1990s.

However he recommended that public sector agencies advise their employees of the risk of "attending meetings or functions of organisations, such as The Brotherhood, which are designed to support the business aspirations of the organiser or controller of the organisation".


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