Company linked to sheik denies bribery
The director of a Kuwaiti holding company denies $230,000 he paid to former mayor Sam Aziz was a bribe over a council-owned land sale on Melbourne's outskirts.
Andrew Nehme, director Action Group Australia, had been pushing the Casey Council to sell the Casey Lifestyle Centre.
During late 2016, four payments were made into Mr Aziz's wife account via Action Group Australia, a subsidiary of a Kuwait company owned by Sheik Mubarak al-Sabah.
Commissioner Robert Redlich put to Mr Nehme that in exchange for Mr Aziz's help in dealing with the council to secure the land sale to an entity whose beneficiaries included the sheik and his family, he paid him the money.
During his examination at an IBAC corruption inquiry on Wednesday, Mr Nehme rejected suggestions of bribery.
"You keep mentioning a bribe. Absolutely not. I'll keep saying that, it's a fact," he said.
"(I'm) still struggling to understand why it is an issue that I lent Mr Aziz money. I'm not quite sure where the issue is, and I got paid back."
Mr Nehme said Mr Aziz, who was deputy mayor at the time, repaid him the cash, bundled in lots of $10,000, which he put in the family safe.
Mr Nehme said the repaid funds were used for living expenses and overseas travel spending but could not recall any large items purchased with the funds that would be traceable.
Counsel assisting Michael Tovey alleged it was impossible for Mr Aziz to have given Mr Nehme that cash because he didn't have it.
"In light of that, you want to maintain, do you, that you in fact got $230,000 in cash from him?" he asked.
"Yes, I did," Mr Nehme replied.
Mr Aziz told the inquiry Mr Nehme helped him by introducing a friend he had at Medibank to help his wife's dental practice get a health insurer.
In an email to the sheik in 2013, Mr Nehme refers to the help he gave Mr Aziz and how he would now feel "compelled" to return a favour.
"So let's put him to the test," Mr Nehme wrote.
Mr Nehme said the email was poorly worded.
The inquiry heard Mr Aziz made a number of moves to push the sale of the Casey Lifestyle Centre forward, including moving a motion for council to prepare a report to support the sale.
The council eventually sold the centre to the Action Group for $28 million in 2016.
Originally published as Company linked to sheik denies bribery