Govt pays ex-bureaucrat’s legal fees after failed ICAC charge

A former senior public servant who spent three years defending a failed charge of falsely claiming taxpayer money has been reimbursed about $150,000 in legal fees – but is also demanding compensation and an apology.

May 09, 2023, updated May 09, 2023
Georgina Vasilevski. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Georgina Vasilevski. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Former Renewal SA senior executive Georgina Vasilevski told a parliamentary committee hearing this afternoon that the state government had reimbursed about 75 per cent of her legal fees, totalling “just under the $200,000 mark”.

But she said she was still chasing a compensation claim, with negotiations between her lawyers and the Crown Solicitor on hold while a review is undertaken into the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Vasilevski was one of four senior Renewal SA executives and on an annual salary of about $300,000 at the time of her 2020 arrest after a lengthy investigation by the ICAC.

The former Renewal SA General Manager, People and Place Management, had been placed on leave in late 2018, but it was another year-and-a-half before she was charged with wrongly claiming travel expenses totalling just $1032.

However, the case against her – and the agency’s former CEO John Hanlon – collapsed in the Magistrates Court in 2021 when prosecutors conceded they did not have sufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

InDaily reported in 2021 that Vasilevski was understood to be pursuing a compensation claim not based on damages but financial loss, based on being terminated with three years remaining on her contract, and a foregone earnings claim expected to total over $1 million.

Vasilevski this afternoon said she had reached a confidential settlement regarding her redundancy, but it did not compensate her for reputational damage, loss of future earnings, or losing her “exemplary 20-year career in the public service”.

She said she was yet to receive any compensation for those losses.

“I have been advised that there could be no discussions at this point in time as… currently the (ICAC) Inspector is writing a report on the Hanlon case and until that report is issued the Crown wouldn’t enter into any sort of discussions with my legal representatives,” she said.

The former bureaucrat said prominent South Australian lawyer Frances Nelson KC was representing the Crown during negotiations with her lawyers.

Vasilevski said she had also sought an apology from the former Marshall Government and current Malinauskas Government over the failed charged, but was her request was yet to be heeded.

“The closest I got to any form of apology was from the former Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Stephan Knoll,” she said.

“When the no case to answer ruling was reached, he messaged me with: ‘Georgina, I have been debating as to whether to contact you. I’m so glad to see this result and I’m sorry for how this played out. As a new minister when (former ICAC Commissioner Bruce) Lander came to my office, I had little choice but to accept what he was saying. We were never presented with evidence, just his word. The further this went on the more I had doubts. I had no ability to intervene. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know’.”

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Vasilevski said she was 43 and “at the peak” of her career when she was stood down from Renewal SA.

She said she had lost “critical time”, but there “seems to be no sense of urgency with any processes relating to ICAC, including compensation for damages”.

“I started in the government as a graduate and my aim one day was to be a chief executive,” she said.

“I believe that’s what I would be now if this didn’t happen to me.”

It follows reports Hanlon was reimbursed $450,000 in legal fees he incurred defending himself following an ICAC investigation.

The original case against Hanlon and Vasilevski collapsed in 2021 in the Adelaide Magistrates Court, when prosecutor Peter Longson conceded the DPP’s office did not have sufficient evidence to prove their guilt.

But the DPP later filed an ‘ex officio’ action in the District Court, seeking to pursue charges against Hanlon alone, of abuse of public office and dishonestly dealing with documents, relating to a 2017 work trip to Berlin.

However, prosecutors dropped this case too on the day the trial was due to start.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo has previously called for a royal commission into the ICAC following the failed charges.

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