Monthly Archives: May 2019

ICAC target Mike Gallacher ‘guest speaker’ at East Maitland branch meeting

Former police minister Mike Gallacher FORMER police minister MikeGallacher was set to offer hisversion of history at a Hunter Liberal Party branch meeting on Monday night.
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Mr Gallacher, the onlytarget of theIndependent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Spicer investigation still sitting in parliament, was listed as a “guest speaker” at an East Maitland branch meeting on Monday night.

His attendance at the meeting has drawn criticism from Labor’s Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, who said it showed Mr Gallacher was still being given a role in the party.

“It’s clear that he’s still in the Liberal Party fold and not only that he’s being held up as someone to aspire to,” she said.

“And yet, his involvement in everything that came out in ICAC is clearly problematic.

“It just shows the Liberals are still, even in the Hunter, soft on corruption.”

Mr Gallacher did not respond torequests for comment on Monday, but branch president Bob Geoghegandefended his right to attend party meetings.

“It’s an internal matter and I’m not going to comment one way or the other on whether he is attending [but] he’sentitled to come to any meeting,” he said.

Mr Geoghegan said there were“a lot of faults” with the ICAC report, and said“my own opinion about Operation Spicer is that it was a kangaroo court”.

Advertised as“discussing” theinquiry with the branch, the one-time architect of the Liberal Party’s success in the Hunter at the 2011 election was accused in May 2014 of hatching a “corrupt scheme”with Nathan Tinkler’s company Buildev to channel illegal donations to the Liberal Party before the 2011 election.

He vigorously denied the claims and said outside ICAC: “I know in my heart I am not corrupt.”

No corruption findings were made against him, but theinquiry found that hehad engaged in conduct with the intent of evading electoral laws which banned developers making political donations in NSW, and had not always been a truthful witness.

“The commission does not consider Mr Gallacher was always a truthful witness and places no reliance on his evidence unless it is corroborated by other reliable evidence or objective facts,”ICAC says in its report.

After the report was released in August the Premier Mike Baird said Mr Gallacher would not return to cabinet or the parliamentary Liberal Party.

A spokesman for the NSW Liberal Party said it was “common that branches and conferences of the Liberal Party invite guest speakers to address meetings”.

“The NSW Liberal Party has publicly acknowledged and apologised to the people of NSW for matters that occurred six years ago, which were revealed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption during its Operation Spicer investigation,” the spokesman said.

“The Party has since taken detailed steps to prevent such issues reoccurring.”

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US authorities arrest former Novocastrian Kirsten Wallace over $US176 million insurance fraud involving Community Recovery rehabilitation centres in California

CHARGED: A mugshot of former Novocastrian Kirsten Wallace following her arrest in US on significant fraud matters. Picture: California Department of Insurance. UPDATE, 12.30pm:
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FORMER Novocastrian Kirsten Wallace will face a Los Angeles court early Wednesday (ADST) as prosecutors now claim she faces up to 53 years in jail if convicted over one of California’s largest insurance frauds.

Ms Wallace, 43, was the chief financial officer ofCommunity Recovery of Los Angeles, a company which ran about 20 rehabilitation centres in southern California and Colorado.

Along with the company’s owner and operator Chris Bathum, the Australian woman was arrested last Thursday following a long investigation by the California Department of Insurance.

They are each chargedwith 31 counts of money laundering, eight counts of grand theft, six counts of identity theft and five counts of insurance fraud.

Mr Bathum has also been charged with sexually assaulting nine patients.

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office alleges Ms Wallace and Christopher Bathumobtained multiple health care insurance policies for their clients, using their personal identifying information and falsified the clients’ circumstances to obtain the policies. The patients were unaware that policies had been issued in their name, prosecutors added.

The DA’s office said in a statement on Tuesday that Bathum and Wallace were also accused of billing for former clients after their treatment ended while those clients were still working at CRLA and no longer receiving treatment.

“Between June 2012 and December 2015, Bathum and Wallace are accused of fraudulently billing an estimated $175 million [$A233 million]. In most instances, bills were sent for services allegedly never provided,’’ the statement said.

“About $44 million [$A58 million] was paid out by five insurance companies, prosecutors said.

“If convicted as charged in the healthcare fraud case, Bathum and Wallace each face up to 53 years in state prison. He faces up to life in prison if convicted in the sexual assault case.”

Ms Wallace is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday (ADST).

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation and the California Department of Insurance.

EARLIER:

A FORMER Newcastle woman is facing over35 years in a United States jail after being accused of being involved in one of the biggest insurance frauds in Californian history.

Kirsten Wallace was due to face a LosAngeles court early on Tuesdayafter being charged on Thursday with multiple counts relating to the alleged fraud of $US176 million ($233 million) involving drug rehabilitation centres.

The California Department of Insurance alleges Ms Wallace, who was the chief financial officer of the Community Recovery company which ran about 20 rehabcentres, and company owner Chris Bathum were involved in “an elaborate conspiracy’’ to defraud patients and insurers.

Prosecutors will allege Ms Wallace and Mr Bathum, who is also being investigated for sexually assaulting patients, stole patient identities,bought health insurance policies for patients without their knowledge and continuedto bill insurance companies for treatment after the services were completed.

“Bathum and Wallace’s alleged conspiracyvictimized hundreds of people addicted to drugs and alcohol by keeping them in a never-ending cycle of treatment, addiction and fraud –all the while lining their pockets with millions of dollars from allegedly fraudulent insurance claims,’’ California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said.

The charges include: identity theft for submitting fraudulent health insurance applications without patients’ knowledge; five counts of billing fraud for submitting claims for services not provided and duplicate billings; five counts of grand theft by false representation for representing [their company] as a residential treatment facility, which it is not licensed to provide; and five counts of grand theft by false representation to insurers for filing fraudulent health insurance policy applications.

Additional charges include enhancements for losses greater than $US500,000 andgreater than $US3.2 million.

“This is likely the first wave of indictments and charges in an ongoing investigation into one of the largest health insurance fraud cases in California,’’ Mr Jones said.

Ms Wallace, originally from Coffs Harbour, moved back from the US to Newcastle in late 1999to be near her mother.

She lived in Carrington and Mayfield forabout seven years before her and her young daughter moved to the US about 10 years ago.

Ms Wallace wasarrested in California on Thursday, with the Los Angeles Times reporting at least 16 locations were raided.

The newspaper said the company ran six centres in Colorado and 13 drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in Los Angeles.

The department said if convicted, the pair face “more than 35 years in prison”. Bail was requested at $2 million and both werelikely to be arraigned overnight Monday (ADST).

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After US election, Russia feared influencing French vote, corroding Western values

London: Marine Le Pen, the far-right French leader hopeful of a strong showing in next year’s presidential election, has defended borrowing from a Russian bank to fund her party – and promised closer ties between the Elysee Palace and the Kremlin if she wins next May.
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There are growing fears of Russian interference in the vote, after Donald Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin and Russia’s alleged role in hacking the Democratic party’s email server were hot topics in the US election.

Foreign policy experts told Fairfax that Russia would benefit from “chaos” in Europe and a weakened NATO and EU, and it was not clear how far it would go to exploit the opportunities offered by next year’s presidential elections in France.

Ms Le Pen admitted in 2014 that her party borrowed €9 million  ($12.9 million) from a Russian-owned bank. Russia has also reportedly lent money to Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s Northern League, Hungary’s Jobbik and the Freedom Party of Austria.

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Marine Le Pen defended the move.

“I’m sorry, but I borrowed from a Russian bank, but it might as well have been a bank from Guatemala or from Spain,” she said. “French banks won’t lend to the National Front, it’s a way they have found to stifle democracy.”

But she said her presidency would feature a new friendship with Vladimir Putin – and hinted at an end to economic sanctions initiated after Russia took Crimea from Ukraine.

“There is no reason to be scared,” she said. “If we want a powerful Europe we had better negotiate with Russia and cooperate with them, have commercial agreements with them.”

She was in favour of a “multi-polar world” without a wall between Europe and Russia.

“The model defended by Vladimir Putin, which is reasoned protectionism, looking after the interests of his own country, is one that I like,” she said.

Ms Le Pen’s anti-EU, anti-immigration party won more than a quarter of the vote in last year’s regional elections, and she is likely to reach the second round presidential run-off in May.

Voters from the two mainstream parties are expected to unite against her. However she is predicting a Brexit, Trump-style upset win.

Mr Trump’s victory was “a new stone in the building of a new world destined to replace the old one”, Ms Le Pen said, drawing parallels with Brexit and the rise of European “patriotic” nationalism.

Mr Trump had “made possible what was previously thought impossible – the victory of the people against the elite”.

Rene Nyberg, Finland’s former ambassador in Moscow, said Ms Le Pen posed a “formidable populist threat” in the election.

And there was a “very sinister Russian connection” within the National Front, he said.

“They’ve been financing her and that’s unpalatable … Russia today is a country that questions the basic values which are ours, our Western values, human rights, rule of law, the liberal values.

“(Russia) trying to find allies inside the European Union, starting with (Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor) Orban, Marine Le Pen and rejoicing at Brexit etc are things that are very serious.

“Weakening the EU is clearly something they hope to achieve by splitting it. Marine Le Pen’s position of leaving the Union, renouncing the euro is something they support.”

Mr Nyberg said “your guess is my guess” as to whether Russia – or Russian hackers – might try to influence the French election.

E. Wayne Merry, a senior fellow at the America Foreign Policy Council, wrote recently that “Moscow considers American outrage about foreign involvement in this election as pure hypocrisy”, given  overt US influence on other countries such as Egypt and Ukraine, and Washington’s pursuit of regime change in Serbia, Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Professor Anand Menon, from King’s College London’s department of international studies, said the Russia-National Front connection was quite simple to explain.

“It’s not because there’s an ideological affinity necessarily, it’s because the Russians want chaos,” he said. “It means division, the West is less likely to stand up to Russia’s behaviour in eastern Europe.”

The alleged role of Russian hackers in the US election showed that “we’re facing a whole range of weird and wonderful simultaneous threats from unexpected angles”, he said.

He would not rule out a similar hack in France.

“I don’t know enough about Russian intentions to know whether it’s a high level of probability but on the basis of the evidence we have it seems to be that it’s entirely plausible that the Russians would try that,” he said.

“It’s a whole new world of politics we’re in at the moment. It’s trans-national, it’s technological, it’s quite scary in that way but I think there will be more and more of it happening.

“People are going to have to be more and more careful what they do on electronic media now.”

But Professor Menon said the French electoral system was created to avoid extremist parties winning elections.

“We can come out with all the usual tropes that ‘you can’t trust the polls and they’ve been wrong before’ but I just think the institutional hurdles in France are significantly higher than they are in the US,” he said.

But he warned that if Nicolas Sarkozy was the candidate of the centre-right Republican party, Ms Le Pen’s chances would “go shooting up”,  because the left would find it very hard to put a cross next to Mr Sarkozy’s name.

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Fighting flares in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine

One village before the attacks. Photo: Human Rights Watch The village after the attacks with buildings and trees burnt and missing. Photo: Human Rights Watch
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Bangkok: Fierce fighting has escalated in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state where satellite imagery shows the destruction of hundreds of Rohingya Muslim homes.

Myanmar’s government said eight people died and 36 were arrested in the latest clashes between the Myanmar army and what the government claimed are Rohingya militants.

Human rights groups accuse the military of killing, raping and burning the homes of Rohingya, a minority of almost one million people in Buddhist majority Myanmar.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had identified a total of 430 destroyed buildings in three districts of Maungdaw from an analysis of high-definition satellite imagery recorded between October 22 and November 10.

Brad Adams, the organisation’s Asia director, said the images show the destruction is far greater than was at first thought and called on Myanmar authorities to promptly establish a UN-assisted investigation as a first step towards ensuring justice and security for the victims.

Myanmar’s Information Ministry said the violence flared last weekend when government troops were ambushed by about 60 attackers armed with guns, knives and spears.

Two soldiers were killed in a subsequent battle involving 500 armed men, the ministry said, adding that two helicopter gunships joined the fight.

The military has imposed a lock-down on most of the region since October 9 when gunmen attacked three police posts near the border with Bangladesh, leaving nine policemen dead.

The government claims the attackers were Rohingya extremists but the actual responsibility remains unclear, human rights groups say.

Aid organisations, the United Nations, independent observers and the media have been prevented from going to the affected areas where tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said children there already suffer from high levels of deprivation and malnutrition.

“Their futures depend on help from doctors, nurses, teachers and others who can provide them with nutrition, health and education services,” UNICEF said.

The violence is the most serious to hit to Rakhine since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in 2012.

More than 100,000 Rohingya are still living in squalid camps after being driven from their homes where they are denied citizenship and other basic rights, despite the fact their families have lived in the country also known as Burma for generations.

The United Nations has called on Myanmar to investigate reports of dozens of sexual assaults in Rakhine and to allow humanitarian assistance to reach the area to provide support for survivors.

Myanmar’s National League for Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was swept into office in November 2015 promising to bring peace to the country’s many ethnic minorities who account for up to 40 per cent of the country’s population.

But wars in the north against Kachin, Shan and other ethnic rebel forces are continuing unabated despite peace talks in August.

More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the north as the military advances supported by helicopter gunships, jets and heavy artillery.

Ms Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to speak up for the Rohingya as she is seen to be playing a delicate balancing act between her supporters and the military which kept her under house arrest for a total of 15 years.

Myanmar expert Bertil Lintner said a year after dancing in the streets to celebrate Ms Suu Kyi’s victory a bitter reality has set in as she finds it was much easier to be the heroine of democracy than to rule a country torn apart by decades of civil war and ethnic and political strife. .

“And the military remains in the driving seat, despite the country having a civilian government for the first time since the early 1960s,” he said.

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