A prominent Liberal fundraiser has branded a money-laundering scheme allegedly run by former NSW cabinet minister Chris Hartcher a bad look for the party.
But John Caputo told the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Thursday there was nothing unusual about another fundraising exercise, in which cheques made out to the NSW Liberal Party were instead sent to Mr Hartcher.
The ICAC is investigating the alleged “systematic subversion” of NSW electoral fundraising laws and claims Mr Hartcher and other Liberal figures funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars from banned political donors via sham companies.
Mr Caputo, who’s from Sydney’s northern beaches and has links with NSW Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, told the commission he arranged a dinner at the upmarket Sheraton Hotel in the lead-up to the 2011 state election.
Furniture baron Nick Scali was on the guest list, the dress code was “lounge suit”, and diners paid up to $1000 a head.
But although the guests made out their cheques to the NSW Liberal Party, Mr Caputo said he sent much of the money to Mr Hartcher.
“Pretend I’m an average punter who’s in attendance at this dinner,” counsel assisting Greg O’Mahoney asked.
“I’ve made out a cheque to the NSW division of the Liberal Party, and find out years later that the money was put in the pocket of Mr Hartcher later that night?”
“It didn’t go in his pocket,” Mr Caputo said, to which Mr O’Mahoney shot back: “In his wallet, then.”
But Mr Caputo did agree another scheme amounted to fraud.
He was involved in passing $4000 in cheques from “avidly anti-socialist” accountant Timothy Trumbull to Mr Hartcher, who allegedly laundered the money through his nephew’s law firm, and then on to alleged slush fund Mickey Tech.
It’s alleged Mr Trumbull had asked backpackers to put the cheques in their names to disguise the fact he had already reached his donation cap.
“That’s a fraud, isn’t it?” Mr O’Mahoney said.
“Well, yeah. I wasn’t aware that was happening at all,” Mr Caputo replied. “It’s not a good look at all, very bad.”