ICAC finds corrupt conduct in attempts to influence Ku-ring-gai Council officer with jewellery and cash

Thursday 26 February 2009

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has made corrupt conduct findings against Diana Huang for attempting to influence Ku-ring-gai Council officer Katharine Hawken by offering gifts of cash and jewellery to encourage Ms Hawken to favourably assess planning applications relating to a property at Wahroonga.

The ICAC's report on Attempts to improperly influence a Ku-ring-gai Council officer, released today, found that between December 2007 and June 2008, Ms Huang provided a pearl, white gold and diamond pendant, and $1,000 cash, to Ms Hawken.

At the time, Ms Hawken was working on a subdivision and development of a property in Wahroonga, owned by a company of which Wing Mak was a director and shareholder. Ms Huang worked for Mr Mak.

The Commission is of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with respect to the prosecution of Ms Huang for two offences of corruptly offering an inducement contrary to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

No corrupt conduct findings have been made in relation to Mr Mak or Ms Hawken, and the Commission is not of the opinion that consideration should be given to obtaining the advice of the DPP with respect to the prosecution of Mr Mak or Ms Hawken for any offence. It is also not of the opinion that consideration should be given to the taking of any disciplinary or dismissal action against Ms Hawken.

The ICAC Commissioner, the Hon Jerrold Cripps QC, has also made three corruption prevention recommendations, including one to the Department of Local Government to amend the Model Code of Conduct, applicable to all councils, "to include a clear prohibition on council officers accepting gifts and benefits of any kind, regardless of their value, from persons seeking the exercise of a council's decision-making discretion or who have sought the exercise of the council's decision-making discretion within the previous 12 months."

In September 2007, Ms Huang submitted the subdivision (or linen) plan to the council, which was to be assessed by Ms Hawken, the Team Leader of council's Engineering Assessments Team. On 24 December 2007, while the application was still to be finalised, Ms Huang met with Ms Hawken at the council and gave her a small box. Ms Hawken told the Commission that when she opened the box after Christmas, it contained a pearl pendant which she believed to be costume jewellery valued at about $40. She further stated that she believed that under council policy, gifts valued under $50 could be kept.

The jewellery was subsequently found to have been purchased for $807 the day before it was given to Ms Hawken. Ms Hawken did fill out a gifts and benefits disclosure form, but she did not have the form signed by her director and provided to the general manager within the requisite seven days under council policy.

Ms Huang then submitted a traffic management plan to the council on 12 May 2008. The plan had not been assessed by 2 June, when Ms Huang arranged to meet with Ms Hawken at the council. On that day, Ms Huang handed an envelope and whispered to Ms Hawken, "Here is a present for you". When Ms Hawken later opened the envelope, she found it contained $1,000 cash wrapped up in a floor plan of the Wahroonga development. The next day, Ms Huang emailed Ms Hawken, asking for urgent approval of the traffic management plan.

The Commission held a public inquiry, as part of this investigation, on Thursday 11 December 2008. Commissioner Cripps presided at the inquiry at which three witnesses gave evidence.

Fact sheet

Investigation report