Mr Dutton, We Will Not Apologise For Reporting The Facts, As We Always Do
As ministerial press releases go, it was a full-on spray.
Three hours after 10 News First reported the substance of allegations at the centre of an inquiry into claims of bribes-for-visas, Peter Dutton was in a froth of outrage. You can see it here.
So let’s go back a bit. What’s this about?
For some time, allegations have been circulating that criminals facing deportation were paying bribes to stay in the country. For a sum, it was being claimed, their deportation would be cancelled and they would be released from Immigration Detention back into the Australian community with freshly minted visas.
One such claim involved William Betham, a New Zealand citizen jailed for more than 10 years for involvement in a major drug trafficking operation.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is proud of his hard line against foreigners committing crimes. “If you come here and start selling drugs…you don’t stay here,” he told radio host Ray Hadley in December. “It’s as simple as that.”
But Betham is now out of immigration detention, free and living in Queensland.
People who follow these things were aware that a current inmate in Immigration Detention, Nauroze Anees, was claiming Betham boasted to him of being able to escape deportation with an $80,000 bribe. Another detainee, also since released, allegedly claimed he got a visa back for $70,000.
All of that was simple prison scuttlebutt. But a significant development came at 10.48pm on Monday night. At Senate Estimates, Home Affairs Department secretary Mike Pezzullo revealed the bribery allegations were now the subject of a formal investigation.
This was news.
We reported it on Tuesday in 10 News First at 5pm. Peter Dutton now claims we alleged corruption by him. This is false. We made no allegations against Mr Dutton.
Mr Dutton says we did not put the “serious allegations raised” to him before broadcast. In fact, we had several contacts with both the Minister’s experienced press secretary John Wiseman and the Home Affairs Department. John Wiseman was most anxious to stress that the Minister did not personally sign off on Betham’s visa. But that was never something we alleged anyway.
Any suggestion that Mr Dutton’s office was not given an opportunity to understand the story and respond to it is false and we have the phone records to prove it.
My one regret is that I was unable to track down Mr Betham, the former drug runner, before we went to air.
Mr Dutton had more luck, last night quoting a statement from Betham’s solicitor denying bribery was a factor in getting his visa. The denial is delicately worded. The solicitor says Betham “denies 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.”
There is no express denial of offering other bribes.
Mr Dutton is most displeased that our report “relied on a statement from convicted criminal Nauroze Anees.” We made quite clear that Mr Anees was speaking from behind bars. Whatever his convictions -- assault, theft, making threats, recklessly causing injury -- they pale against those of the drug lord Betham.
Mr Dutton dismisses Anees as a “convicted criminal and a liar”. But he quotes favourably from the carefully worded legal denial of a much more serious criminal figure.
Very odd indeed.
Dutton says the bribery allegations made by Nauroze Anees are “entirely false.”
But if they are entirely without merit, why are they the subject of a formal investigation -- and one that was underway before we reported our story?
Mr Dutton’s statement confirms the investigation into “the Department’s decision making process in this matter.”
Given that it is still underway, why is the Minister so certain the allegations are false?
Let’s hope the facts emerge.
We will report them. As we always do.