The corruption inquiry into former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire has heard claims that he may have been involved in a ‘cash for visa’ scheme through a company established alongside a Wagga businessman.
On Monday, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began a public inquiry based on allegations against the former MP that he used his public officer for personal gain and breached public trust.
Monday’s proceedings focused largely on Maguire’s involvement with G8wayInternational, which was formed by a “joint discussion” between Maguire and his friend of 40 years, Wagga businessman Phillip Elliott.
Mr Elliott appeared as a witness and – when questioned by the Commission – agreed that although Maguire was not formally appointed as director of G8wayInternational, he “did the kinds of things that a director might do.”
“…initially the idea was that it would become a link between Australian suppliers and buyers and Chinese suppliers and buyers,” Mr Elliott told the inquiry.
Despite the initial intentions, Counsel assisting Scott Robertson told the inquiry that G8wayInternational advertised and offered immigration services, something that Mr Elliott confirmed during the inquiry.
G8wayInternational’s website advertised a ‘specialist’ who could provide these services; a woman named Maggie Wang who allegedly assisted Chinese nationals with wrongfully obtaining a employee nomination scheme visa or a regional migration scheme visa.
Messages showing an intention to hold meetings between Wagga, Griffith, Leeton and Cootamundra businesses about Chinese migrant workers was shown to the inquiry.
When asked by Mr Robertson if G8wayInternational was acting as a pathway for certain Chinese nationals to get permanent residency within Australia, Mr Elliott said “that would be correct.”
When asked if the scheme didn’t involve genuine employment relationships, Mr Elliott replied “that’s how it turned out, yeah.”
“As you understood it, it was made clear … that the visa applicants wouldn’t actually be turning up to full-time work, correct?” Mr Elliott was asked.
He replied that he “understood that.”
When asked if he knew it was a scam, Mr Elliot said “I don’t know how I respond to that.”
Mr Robertson asked again if he knew that G8wayInternational was participating in a scheme allowing people to get visas without a genuine business relationship at the end of the the line, Mr Elliott conceded, answering “yes.”
Mr Elliott later told the Commission that Maguire was the one “pulling the strings” and in relation to the immigration scheme, he and Maguire had discussed the ins and outs of it as it was taking place.
Mr Robertson asked Mr Elliott, “…not only did you know that the immigration scheme involved telling lies to Immigration, that it was also something that … Mr Maguire knew as well, correct?”
Mr Elliott replied, “I believe so.”
Emails and text messages from Maguire provided to the Commission demonstrate that he believed the immigration scheme would bring in up to $30,000 per successful visa applicant.
ICAC is investigating allegations as part of ‘Operation Keppel’ that from 2012 to 2018, Maguire engaged in conduct that breached public trust by using his public office to improperly gain a benefit for himself and/or entities close to him.
The Commission has been provided with evidence demonstrating that Maguire pursued a number of commercial activities between 2012 and 2018 commonly involving an association with China, particularly through the company G8wayInternational.
G8wayInternational is a company that was directed by Wagga Wagga businessman Phillip Elliott, Maguire’s friend of 40 years who had previously acted as his election campaign manager. The company claimed to offer an immigration service, business network and chaperoned travel, with an influence reaching “high levels of government.”
The public inquiry, which is set to go for four weeks, will investigate whether Maguire used, or attempted to use, his parliamentary office and the access it granted him to advance his own interests, and that of G8wayInternational.
In the opening statement of counsel assisting the commission, Scott Robertson and Alex Brown write that Maguire appears to have pursued commercial opportunities involving Chinese associates via G8wayInternational while formally distancing himself from its ownership and managerial structure.
Emails obtained by the Commission show that Maguire had already been pursuing business opportunities through China dating back to March and May of 2012, where he used his parliamentary email address to discuss his prospective wine sales into China in which he or “his” company stood to make a commission.
The Commission has also found evidence that although Maguire was not formally appointed as director of G8wayInternational, he controlled the company in such a way he could be viewed as a de facto director.
Neither Maguire’s role in G8wayInternational nor any income derived from his activities with the company was ever declared in his parliamentary returns between 2012 and 2018.
As well as financial matters, Maguire’s role in G8wayInternational’s immigration activities will be investigated during the public inquiry, including whether he was involved in a ‘cash for visas’ scheme.
The public inquiry will also look at Maguire’s role in the NSW Parliament Asia Pacific Friendship Group (APFG), which he Chaired from June 2011 until his resignation in 2018.
In addition to being the Chair of APFG, Maguire was also Honorary Chairman of an organisation named the Shenzhen Asia Pacific Commercial Development Association (SAPCDA), which was essentially a consortium of private businessmen in China.