Aziz ‘heartburn’ scare at IBAC

Sam Aziz at the IBAC hearing, shortly before a medical episode on 24 November.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Casey ex-mayor Sam Aziz has had a medical scare while under heavy questioning at an IBAC inquiry over fresh claims of an alleged side-deal with a council contractor.

The inquiry’s live-stream broadcast – on 15 minutes delay – was shut down suddenly early in the afternoon session on Tuesday 24 November.

On resumption shortly after 3pm, Mr Aziz’s screen was blank as IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich announced that the hearings would be adjourned.

Mr Redlich said Mr Aziz had indicated that he’d suffered heartburn and wanted to resume.

But given Mr Aziz’s medical history, the hearings wouldn’t resume until the witness was granted medical clearance, Mr Redlich said.

Prior to the scare, Mr Aziz was coming to the end of his sixth and final day of gruelling evidence at the anti-corruption inquiry.

Mr Redlich had just taken issue with Mr Aziz’s denials of a perceived conflict of interest over artificial-intelligence company IPsoft’s contract negotiations with Casey Council.

Mr Aziz had introduced IPsoft to Casey officers and moved motions to support their interests. At the same time, he was allegedly negotiating a personal financial side-deal, the IBAC hearing heard.

IPsoft paid Mr Aziz $30,800 soon after Casey paid $42,705 to trial IPsoft’s AI robot, Amelia, the IBAC inquiry heard.

On covert phone recordings in November 2018, Mr Aziz was heard requesting the side-deal no longer be termed a ‘referring agreement’.

He says it should be a “generic consulting agreement that talks broadly about the local government sector”.

He told IPsoft senior sales executive Hany Ayad that he’d sign his contract after Casey awarded the Amelia contract.

Mr Ayad asks Mr Aziz if IPsoft was successful, “would we still contract directly with Casey, or with you, and you contract with Casey?”

“You contract directly with Casey,” Mr Aziz says.

“I basically have nothing to do with it.”

Mr Aziz says he has to inform Casey’s chief executive of the deal. Otherwise it should be kept “confidential – just strictly between you and I”.

At the IBAC inquiry, Mr Aziz said the agreement was designed to avoid a conflict of interest.

He denied there was a “kickback”.

“The work they wanted me to do was totally unrelated to the City of Casey.”

Counsel assisting IBAC, Michael Tovey accused him of wanting to amend the agreement so it wasn’t so obviously linked to City of Casey’s contract.

“All these other concepts you’re talking about is just stuff you’re making up to make the intolerable marginally tolerable, isn’t it Mr Aziz?

“I disagree entirely,” Mr Aziz said.

Mr Tovey noted at that stage Mr Aziz’s fee appeared unknown.

“So you’re saying to him – we can’t work out how much he has to pay you until we know how much Casey Council is paying him.”

Mr Aziz said they were waiting to finalise his consulting fee because the Casey pilot would be modelled in other environments. They didn’t yet know the cost of the trial.

Mr Aziz said a Casey’s governance director advised he didn’t have a conflict of interest because the IPsoft contract decision was being made by a council officer.

“The advice I was giving them wasn’t anything to do with the City of Casey.”

Mr Redlich told Mr Aziz that the “flaw in your thinking” was that if there was no contract and only pre-contractual discussions, then there was no conflict of interest.

“Do you not see that by these machinations of yours you were simply playing with the rules to avoid disclosure of the fact that a significant contract that is about to be entered into with the council is being made at a time when you, a prime mover in persuading the council and the council officers to adopt this proposal, are in the course of securing for yourself a significant financial benefit?”

A second tapped phone call was about to be played when Mr Redlich asked if Mr Aziz was “feeling all right”.

“No, Commissioner, I’m not. I’m not at the moment.”

Mr Redlich adjourned, as he requested that Mr Aziz get assistance.

Earlier that day, Mr Aziz told the inquiry that he’d suffered heart failure while on a council-funded trip to address an IPsoft artificial intelligence summit in New York in May 2018.

He was hospitalised then for five days, and missed the summit, Mr Aziz said.

At the time, Casey was negotiating with IPsoft about the Amelia pilot.