Saturday, April 9, 2011

Crooked NSW cops losing the battle against exposure

THE state's most secretive crime-fighting agency, the NSW Crime Commission, has dropped its attempt to seize the mobile phones, SIM cards and telephone records of two Herald journalists in its continuing dispute with the police corruption watchdog.

The backdown comes after the election of the new Coalition government and the appointment of a new Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, who oversees the Crime Commission.

Subpoenas were issued last month not just to the two journalists, Linton Besser and Dylan Welch, but also to Fairfax Media, publisher of the Herald. The subpoenas, which demanded that all records of contacts between its journalists and the Police Integrity Commission be handed over, provoked outrage among civil libertarians and legal groups.

But last night the Crime Commission told lawyers acting for Fairfax that it "now does not intend to press the subpoenas such that no production by your clients is required".

The Herald had earlier published an investigation that revealed the Crime Commission had cut hundreds of deals with criminal figures allowing them to walk away with millions of dollars worth of the proceeds of crime.

The articles highlighted other "opportunities for misconduct" within the agency, including its habit of taking substantial amounts of seized criminal assets to pay for its own legal costs. A top-secret PIC inquiry, also revealed in the reports, had uncovered evidence the Crime Commission had been rewarding select defence solicitors with hundreds of thousands of dollars for work that may have only taken several hours.

It is understood Mr Gallacher has not yet met with the Crime Commission commissioner, Phillip Bradley.

Mr Gallacher was quoted in those stories accusing the commission of "washing" millions of dollars worth of criminal proceeds, and promised an inquiry.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, later said the commission needed an "accountability mechanism".

The reports revealed that the PIC, which was given oversight of the Crime Commission after serious allegations were raised about the activities of staff, had found areas of potential misconduct that warranted a hearing.

Within days of the Herald reporting the PIC's intentions, the Crime Commission launched legal action in the Supreme Court aimed at stymieing any such hearings. Those hearings are due to begin at the end of next week.


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