Controversial former mayor Sam Aziz has agreed to forfeit more than $200,000 after a legal bid by authorities to stop the sale of his house because of concerns it was “tainted” by corruption.
The civil case brought by Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission was due to go to trial next week in the County Court, but documents filed with the court show that Mr Aziz agreed that net proceeds from the sale of his Berwick house could be seized. The trial will now not go ahead.
Allegedly corrupt former Casey mayor Sam Aziz at IBAC
IBAC applied to confiscate the sale proceeds, arguing they were tainted by alleged criminal activity. Court documents cited accusations of Mr Aziz receiving bribes, engaging in misconduct in public office and dealing with the proceeds of crime as part of his role in the Casey land scandal. Mr Aziz has not been charged with any offences.
Mr Aziz is a central figure in the Casey land scandal involving developer and planner John Woodman.
The Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission in 2019 and 2020 heard allegations that Mr Aziz was a key player in Mr Woodman’s strategy of controlling the council through bribes and donations to win favourable planning outcomes, including a $150 million rezoning at Cranbourne West.
The commission heard that Mr Woodman allegedly bribed two Casey councillors – including Mr Aziz – and showered councillors and state political candidates with donations in his bid to win planning approvals worth hundreds of millions of dollars for his developer clients and himself.
The Casey story so far
Mr Aziz allegedly brought $600,000 in cash in a suitcase to Mr Woodman in 2017 and then, over about a year, received back $822,000 to interests associated with Mr Aziz. Payments were also made to Mr Aziz’s mother, and his fiancee, to settle Mr Aziz’s tax debts, to pay off a car lease and to settle his divorce from his ex-wife.
In the hearings Mr Aziz repeatedly denied that he took bribes. He could not be reached for comment by The Age on why he agreed to allow the state to seize the proceeds from the sale of his house.
In 2018 Mr Aziz had discussed financial deals with Mr Woodman’s one-time lobbyist and former Liberal MP Lorraine Wreford, including a proposal for Mr Woodman to buy Mr Aziz’s Berwick house.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Michael Tovey, QC, said the deal appeared to be that Mr Woodman would buy the house, allow Mr Aziz to live there rent-free, and then transfer the house back to Mr Aziz at no cost when he stood down from the council after the 2020 election. Mr Aziz claimed the deal was not a gift from Mr Woodman because Mr Aziz would have to have borrowed money to buy it back from the developer.
The house sale to Mr Woodman did not ultimately proceed after a wide-ranging investigation by The Sunday Age late in 2018 about Mr Woodman’s activities.
The court bid to stop the later sale of Mr Aziz’s Berwick house started in October 2019, three weeks before the public IBAC hearings began. IBAC discovered the “tainted” property [the house] had been listed for sale on a real estate website after a raid.
Mr Aziz’s Berwick house sold for $755,000 in late 2019 and the proceeds had been held on trust since under the Confiscation Act. Net proceeds of $207,000 will now go to the state government.
The affidavit in the County Court claimed Mr Aziz had been “maintaining a suspected corrupt relationship” with Mr Woodman but indicated the criminal fall-out could be broader.
It said “certain City of Casey councillors”, including Mr Aziz, and “certain property developers”, including Mr Woodman, may have provided or received “bribes or secret commissions in return for favourable council decisions.”
Mr Aziz was once a Labor member but switched allegiance to the Liberals while on Casey council and has courted controversy with homophobic and Islamophobic comments. In 2014 he told Muslim leaders to leave Australia and “go home” if they felt alienated. The public IBAC hearings concluded last December. No individuals have been charged over any allegations that arose in the hearings.
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