By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Property group director Andrew Nehme denied a purported $251,000 loan to former councillor Sam Aziz was a “joint fabrication” – despite an unexplained $21,000 payment and allegedly backdated loan document.
In October and November 2016 Mr Nehme lent an unsecured $230,000 because Mr Aziz was a “friend in distress”, he told an IBAC Operation Sandon hearing.
“He mentioned that he had issues, he had debts, didn’t tell me exactly what those debts related to, and was looking for a loan,” he said on 10 December.
“At that point I was happy to support him.”
He’d transferred the money in instalments to Mr Aziz’s wife’s account.
The overlooked $21,000 was paid into the same account on 29 September 2016 – two days before the loan document’s date of 1 October.
It was also 23 days after Casey Council authorised the sale of the Casey Lifestyle Centre to Mr Nehme’s Action Group Australia on 6 September.
Mr Nehme told IBAC the $21,000 was part of the loan but “I’ve missed it in the documentation, embarrassingly”.
IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich said it was a “very difficult explanation to accept” given the loan document was dated two days later.
“It was an error for me not picking it up in the agreement,” Mr Nehme replied.
“I’m trying to chase it up. It’s part of the loan. I want that money back.”
Counsel assisting IBAC Michael Tovey asked: “You had forgotten, had you, in the space of two days that the loan was for … $251 (thousand) and not $230 (thousand)?”
“Correct,” Mr Nehme said.
Mr Nehme confirmed that he forgave “any interest” on the loan due to Mr Aziz’s “circumstances at the time”.
Mr Tovey asserted that the loan document’s metadata showed it was backdated. It was created on 10 May 2017, he told IBAC.
In a “pretty amazing coincidence”, Mr Aziz withdrew $600,000 to give to developer John Woodman about the same date, Mr Tovey said.
Mr Nehme said he recalled it was created on the date on the document, 1 October 2016.
He couldn’t recall if he sent the document to Mr Aziz in July 2017 due to Mr Aziz requesting the document as part of his divorce proceedings.
Mr Redlich said there was “serious doubt about whether your claim that you ever lent Mr Aziz $230,000 which he repaid you in cash was true”.
At an earlier hearing, Mr Tovey had asserted to Mr Aziz that it was part of a “total fabrication to defraud your wife of $230,000”
“That $230,000 had been paid to you as a bribe?”
Mr Aziz said: “Absolutely not. That is the most ridiculous assertion I’ve heard so far.”
He said the loan restored the mortgages, which had been drawn down to pay off the debts such as dental equipment.