Dutton Confirms Investigation Into Visas For Foreign Criminals
The Home Affairs department is investigating allegations of bribery for visas made by a man held in immigration detention, the most explosive concerning a drug trafficker jailed for 10 years.
"The Department is undertaking an internal process in relation to the Department’s decision making process in this matter," Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton confirmed.
The "matter" Dutton refers to is an allegation made by Nauroze Anees -- a man held in immigration detention -- claiming that detainees boasted of being granted visas after transferring large amounts of money into "an account of a person in Brisbane".
One such claim involved William Betham, a New Zealand citizen jailed for more than 10 years for involvement in a major drug trafficking operation.
At a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, Home Affairs Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo revealed the bribery allegations were now the subject of a formal inquiry.
"That'll be the subject of the investigation that I've just said we've got underway," he said in response to questions from Greens senator Nick McKim.
After 10 News First aired Anees' claims in a TV news broadcast on Tuesday, Dutton released a statement saying he was not the decision-maker in Betham's visa case.
"Neither did the matter come to my office for consideration. It was decided by an official in the Department," the minister said.
Dutton claimed Anees' accusations are "entirely false". He said Anees had his visa cancelled after he committed 30 offences including assault and theft -- but he also revealed his department was looking into the bribery allegations.
"The Department is undertaking an internal process in relation to the Department’s decision making process in this matter," he said.
In a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald, Betham's lawyer Jennifer Samuta said he denied "offering a monetary payment to any official who might be in a position to reinstate his visa, or to an official who might be able to impact a similar decision".
The newspaper reported Samuta said he also denied "bragging to fellow detainees at Christmas Island that he could get his visa back for a monetary payment after it was mandatorily cancelled".
Anees said he was pleased to hear his allegations would be reviewed.
"It's extremely important that an independent investigation is conducted. How can Dutton's department investigate themselves?" he asked.
Anees, 32, has been held in detention since 2016. He came to Australia in 2007 on a student visa, which was cancelled in 2011, and is facing deportation after being refused a partner visa. He has several criminal convictions, including for theft, assault and driving offences.
He is appealing the visa decision and currently resides at the Perth Immigration Detention Centre, having spent time also at the Yongah Hill centre.
Anees made the explosive claims in articles published in major Australian newspapers on Sunday night. By Monday afternoon, he claimed he had been hauled into a meeting with two Australian Border Force officers, who told him that his removal from Australia would be expedited.
Anees told 10 daily that his appeal was still ongoing and had not been finalised, and claimed he was not given a reason why his deportation was being expedited.
"I knew the risks I was taking by blowing the whistle," Anees told 10 daily.
At Monday's estimates hearing, ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said he was "not aware of that visit" referred to by Anees and claimed it would be "remarkable" that the department would react so quickly, as claimed by Anees.
Anees claimed Monday was the first time since entering detention in 2016 that he had been seen by an ABF removals officer, and claimed "without a shadow of a doubt" it was due to his claims being widely published this week.
He has since lodged an appeal in the Federal Court.
10 daily contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment twice, on Monday and Tuesday. A spokesperson replied on Monday that "while we do not comment on individual cases, we will look into your questions and respond to you tomorrow."
Requests for comment were not returned on Tuesday.
Anees claims he was also told on Tuesday that the department was closing an investigation into an assault he had reported against immigration centre guards.
A letter from the department's Integrity Security and Assurance Division, seen by 10 daily, claimed an assessment had found the allegations to be "unsubstantiated".
Greens senator McKim asked Home Affairs department officials about Anees' case in a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night.
Secretary Pezzullo said the department was investigating the claims made by Anees in his blog and subsequent media reporting.
"How do you explain what appears on the face of it to be a massive coincidence that less than 24 hours after a story is published... he was actually visited by ABF officers and told he would be deported," McKim asked, saying his office was "in very close contact with Mr Anees".
ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said he was "not aware of that visit" referred to by Anees.
"I'll have to take that on notice to get further details," he said.
"Let me advise you that ABF officers don't make decisions about cancelling visas, and we don't remove people from this jurisdiction unless it's lawful to do so and in conjunction with the department."
"So, the idea that we'd react within 24 hours to a media article to remove somebody from the country I find remarkable, but we'll come back to you."