Crime and Corruption Commission targets privately funded Queensland Police anti-fraud project

A privately funded anti-fraud project run by Queensland Police has become the subject of a corruption investigation.

Project Synergy, which has raised $165,000 in the past two financial years from some of Australia’s best-known companies, is the target of a probe by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

Key points:

Project Synergy raised $165,000 in past two financial years
Major sponsors include Telstra, Hewlett Packard, Symantec
QPS confirms Project Synergy subject of “open investigation”

Sponsors of Project Synergy include Telstra, Hewlett Packard, Symantec, Western Union and the CPA.

The ABC reported in August the CCC had taken over an internal misconduct probe into the state’s fraud squad and the possible misuse of a corporate credit card.

The probe is focused on Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, who led the fraud squad for more than 10 years before taking a “career break” earlier this year.

The ABC has now established that Project Synergy, which runs conferences and other crime-prevention activities and is managed by the fraud squad, is also being looked at by the CCC.

In its report to the Queensland Government on Friday, a commission of inquiry into organised crime noted Project Synergy “is funded by the private sector and the commission is aware that some aspects of its management are the subject of an investigation by the CCC”.

The QPS has also confirmed Project Synergy is the subject of “an open investigation”.

The ABC last month made a request to the QPS for documents relating to Project Synergy using Right To Information laws.

The QPS denied the request, saying that the “premature release of information would prejudice” the investigation.

The organised crime inquiry called Detective Superintendent Hay as a witness in secret hearings earlier this year.

In its report, the inquiry recorded that he had been unable to say how much money Project Synergy had raised annually.

However, financial disclosures by the QPS to the ABC show it raised $165,000 in relation to Fraud and Cybercrime Symposium events in 2013 and 2014.

The inquiry, which was highly critical of failures by the QPS to tackle serious organised fraud, found Detective Superintendent Hay had assigned a fully trained fraud squad detective from the fraud prevention unit to manage Project Synergy.

The inquiry described having a fully trained detective in the fraud prevention unit as a “misdirection of resources”.

Corporate sponsorship of police has been highly contentious in Queensland.

There was a public backlash earlier this year when it emerged oil and gas producer Santos had sponsored police vehicles in parts of the state where the company’s coal-seam gas activities had been controversial.

The sponsorship deal included large Santos company logos on the police vehicles.

Criminologist Terry Goldsworthy of Bond University said there were dangers for both sides in corporate sponsorship of police services.

“The police brand is very powerful,” he said.

“By associating by some degree you can endorse something … that is an area where you need to be very careful as to what you’re doing.

“If you have large amounts of money coming into the police service you must ensure that the money is being accounted for properly.

“Where is it going to? Who has governance? Who has oversight of it? What risk-management protocols are in place to ensure that the money is being dealt with appropriately and not being misappropriated or dealt with in an improper manner?”

Prior to the Police Minister ordering the QPS in April to make full disclosure of sponsorships, the service had published the amounts received but kept the identities of donors secret, an approach defended by Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.

The Commissioner said some companies did not want their identities to become public.

Assistant Professor Goldsworthy said such an approach “flies in the face of the concept of sponsorship”.

“I would have thought it would be beneficial for the police to release that information and say ‘we were sponsored by these people’ for the benefit of the corporations and for transparency of the police service itself,” he said.

The ABC has made attempts to reach Detective Superintendent Hay.

The detective is on a 12-month “career break” from the QPS and is working for an internet security company in Brisbane.

Telstra said it had paid $8,000 to sponsor a Queensland Police Fraud and Cybercrime Symposium this year.

A spokesman said Telstra had wanted to raise awareness of cyber security and fraud and to improve cooperation with law enforcement.

The spokesman said the company deemed the amount too small to be disclosed to shareholders.

Symantec said it had purchased booth space at the Fraud and Cybercrime Symposium last year “as part of a sponsorship agreement” without providing further details.

The CPA said its support had extended to advising its members the event was taking place, “and we were happy for them to use our logo”.

Other organisations contacted by the ABC for comment did not respond.

Companies identified as “sponsors” of Project Synergy on the QPS website include the following:

Hewlett Packard
Palo Alto
Checkpoint Software Technologies
Griffith University
Western Union

Source: ABC News