Developer admits $15k in secret credit card payments to Liberal candidate

The Sydney Morning Herald 2 weeks ago

The property developer at the centre of a major inquiry has admitted making $15,000 in disguised payments to pay off a credit card debt of a candidate for state parliament.

Developer John Woodman was confronted with evidence that he deposited $15,000 in cash in early 2014 into the credit card account of a state Liberal candidate for the seat of Cranbourne and Casey councillor Geoff Ablett.

Mr Woodman withdrew the money in two lots and then deposited it using an unsigned slip into Cr Ablett's credit card account, counsel assisting IBAC Michael Tovey, QC said.

Developer John Woodman has admitted to paying $15,000 to Geoff Ablett.

Mr Tovey repeatedly asked Mr Woodman why he had structured the payments to disguise its origins and if the transaction was “corrupt”.

“Mr Ablett explained to me that he had a credit card debt,” Mr Woodman said.

“He was about to be a candidate for the seat of Cranbourne and part of the candidacy was the financial stability of a candidate,” Mr Woodman said.

“He was fearful his credit card and the extent of it and the fact he was incapable of continuing to meet his monthly payments that he requested my assistance.”

Mr Woodman said the payment was not corrupt and was a donation and a “correction to his credit card account”.

IBAC’s Operation Sandon is the most significant probe into alleged planning-related corruption in Victoria in decades with its examination of land deals in Melbourne’s sprawling south-east.

At the centre of the inquiry is developer and planning consultant Mr Woodman.

Of key interest to IBAC has been the bid to rezone a large property owned by construction giant Leighton from industrial to residential in Cranbourne West which, if it had been successful, could have led to a $100 million windfall.

The council had opposed the rezoning in 2014 but backflipped and supported it the following year. The rezoning proposal is now with planning minister Richard Wynne.

This week, IBAC heard evidence of $1.2 million in payments to two Casey councillors through Mr Woodman-linked companies and other means.

Geoff Ablett

It was alleged that Mr Woodman used a fake name to deposit $5000 cash in the bank account of Casey councillor and former VFL footballer Geoff Ablett.

Under questioning Mr Woodman on Tuesday admitted the fake signature of G Williams was in his hand writing. "Yes sir, I believe so."

On Wednesday Mr Woodman conceded the method of payment was wrong.

"Obviously it was an error of judgement sir … I should not have done that."

Mr Woodman has told the inquiry that he made donations to major parties and paid money to Labor and Liberal linked lobbyists to gain favourable access for his own interests and his clients.

Key issues of interest were central to stories in The Sunday Age in October and November last year, including the proposed rezoning of land in Cranbourne West owned by Leighton, and council decisions favourable to Woodman-linked company Wolfdene, including at the Pavilion housing development and the construction of an intersection at Hall's Road in Cranbourne.

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