Darwin travel agent Sandra Lew Fatt says NT Government’s plan to move travel booking interstate will force local agencies out of business
Darwin travel agent Sandra Lew Fatt says the NT Government will put her out of business. Picture: MICHAEL FRANCHI
From the NT News, 17th July 2015
A LOCAL travel agent says she will be run out of business by the growing travel scandal, after the Government officially announced yesterday that it would no longer be booking travel through local agencies.
The announcement comes on the heels of a police investigation and internal review into certain aspects of government travel.
Sandra Lew Fatt, who has operated in Darwin for 45 years, said she was suspicious of the Government’s motives for moving to a new interstate travel booking system.
She said she would now be forced to close her doors, despite the fact she has done nothing wrong.
She said that 95 per cent of her revenue was from government bookings.
The new booking system was first trialled in June 2014 through corporate travel companies Qantas Business Travel and FCM Travel Solutions.
Ms Lew Fatt said she then became aware that the Government was switching the way it booked travel.
“I said ‘something is wrong here, something is funny’.”
She also questioned the Government’s internal review into travel bookings from June 2014 to June 2015.
“Of course they’re not going find anything between June 2014 and now,” Ms Lew Fatt said. “Go back a couple of years and see who’s been doing what.
“My door is open for anyone who wants to audit me.”
Chief Minister Adam Giles announced the full shift to the booking system in Parliament on Tuesday, effective July 1, citing cost efficiencies and better accountability.
The Government has never said it was suspicious of any local travel agency bookings for travel, however, NT Police is currently investigating an “anomaly” the department made through a booking with Xana Kamitsis-owned Latitude Travel.
Labor leader Michael Gunner called Ms Lew Fatt and other local agents the “victim(s) of the CLP travel scandal”.
“We have significant concerns about what the CLP knew and when the CLP knew it,” he said.
“We have not got all the answers from the CLP.”
Ms Kamitsis is facing charges over allegations she rorted more than $100,000 from a government-run pensioners travel scheme.
Her lawyers have said she will fight the charges in court.
MLA Bess Price’s chief of staff Paul Mossman faces corruption charges in relation to bookings made by Latitude Travel
From the NT News, 18th July 2015
BESS Price’s chief of staff Paul Mossman has been charged with corruption for his role in Government travel bookings through Xana Kamitsis-owned Latitude Travel.
Ms Kamitsis — who is already facing over 100 counts of fraud for allegedly rorting the Government run pensioners travel scheme — has also been charged with three counts of “corruptly giving a benefit” and one count of criminal deception.
As first reported in the NT News, Ms Price’s office had used Latitude exclusively to book hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of travel, including the now infamous $50,000 New York City trip that Ms Price and Mr Mossman took at taxpayers’ expense. It was later revealed that Mr Mossman brought his son along on the business trip, although he claimed he paid for his airline ticket himself. That trip included $6000 for rooms at the Waldorf Astoria, $3000 for a driver to take them on a daily six-minute commute and another $6000 for two plane tickets to Washington for a seven-hour visit — all booked through Latitude.
It was not clear yesterday if the charges related to that trip or any other in the estimated $350,000 to $600,000 worth of travel Bess Price’s office booked through Latitude over a period of 15 months.
It is understood the corruption charges stem from an investigation launched by the NT Police’s Special References Unit into Government travel booked through Latitude after a series of stories in the NT News about questionable travel expenses.
Police allege Ms Kamitsis offered “benefits” to Mr Mossman in exchange for the travel booked through her agency.
A spokeswoman for Ms Price declined to comment on the matter. The NT News understands Mr Mossman had been on leave from his job for a number of weeks before the charges were formally filed. When asked last month about Mr Mossman’s extended leave from her office, Ms Price denied any knowledge of the police investigation and said he was spending time with his children “and was not forced to take leave”.
Mr Mossman worked as an adviser on transportation issues for Chief Minister Adam Giles for eight months after Mr Giles became Chief Minister.
Mr Giles tried to distance himself and his scandal-plagued Government from the current corruption allegations yesterday, first by refusing to answer questions posed by the NT News and later issuing a statement.
“The Department (of Chief Minister) has been co-operating fully with police throughout its investigation and will continue to co-operate with police,” he said in the statement.
Mr Giles added that the Government had made changes to the way it booked travel since the police investigation was called. He also pointed to a current review of public sector travel spearheaded by KPMG and head bureaucrat John Coleman.
“The Government commits to responding fully to any issues raised by this review,” he said.
But that review is only essentially looking at five months worth of travel and was announced just days after an NT News Freedom of Information request for more details into Latitude booked Government travel was stalled.
Mr Coleman has never responded to questions around the timing of the review or why Government officials did not look into the possibility of other alleged rorts of Government travel after Ms Kamitsis was originally arrested last October over the fraud charges. Mr Coleman said in a statement in May that the Government would not “turn a blind eye to unethical behaviour or stand by while illegitimate activities take place”.
Ms Kamitsis was linked to the sudden resignation of former police commissioner John McRoberts after it was revealed Mr McRoberts allegedly interfered in the pensioner travel scheme fraud investigation.
It was revealed at the time that Ms Kamitsis had a relationship with Mr McRoberts. The recent NT Ombudsman report indicated the relationship included gifts given to the police commissioner that were never declared.
Treasurer Dave Tollner, who grew enraged over calls for an independent anti-corruption body in the NT recently by saying that implementing one equated to allegations of corruption, said yesterday on Mix 104.9 that Ms Price’s travel expenses were “highly acceptable”.
Mr Mossman has been stood down from his position in Bess Price’s office with full pay while the charges are before the courts. He has been charged with three counts of corruptly receiving benefits. Ms Kamitsis is charged with three counts of corruptly giving a benefit and one count of criminal deception.
Both will appear before the Darwin Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
Who is Paul Mossman?
• Paul Mossman has been no stranger to controversy in his time involved in Territory politics, most recently as the senior adviser to minister Bess Price.
• In 2005, the self-confessed weather nut unsuccessfully ran as a CLP candidate for the Darwin seat of Millner.
• In the same year he used an online political forum to claim that a 13-year-old girl who was refused an abortion “should have just kept her legs closed in the first place”. He later said it was “possibly not the best comment” and his “opinion only”.
• He was hired by Adam Giles as a departmental liaison officer in 2009 and later became his transport adviser in the first months of Giles’ chief ministership.
• This year he found controversy after he and Ms Price went on a $50,000 taxpayer-funded trip to New York. It was later alleged in Parliament he brought his son on the trip.
Penalties for charges of corruptly receiving benefits, corruptly giving a benefit and criminal deception:
A maximum of three years in jail for each offence under the NT Criminal Code.
Xana faces 37 charges for start
PROSECUTORS have filed the official indictment against Darwin travel agent Alexandra “Xana” Kamitsis, with 37 fraud charges alleging she illegally obtained about $18,000 – biding their time with the other 95 counts.
Ms Kamitsis will fight the charges in an NT Supreme Court trial expected to run for five weeks from November 17.
The Latitude Travel owner was committed to stand trial for 132 counts of fraud and theft over allegedly rorting the NT Government’s Pensioner Carer and Concession Scheme of more than $100,000.
But Crown prosecutor David Morters said it would be “oppressive” for a jury to deal with all the charges against her at once.
“The other matters will remain in the Supreme Court list – what happens with them will be determined by the outcome of these proceedings,” he said.
“There will be voluminous amounts of bank records and records from airlines, ticketing wholesalers and the Health Department.”
NT Police booked more than $50,000 worth of travel between 2010 and 2015 with Latitude Travel
From the NT News, 16th June 2015
NORTHERN Territory police used Xana Kamitsis-owned Latitude Travel to book more than $50,000 in official travel between 2010 and the end of March 2015, it has been revealed.
The majority of the 14 trips either involved former police commissioner John McRoberts or were signed off by him.
The dates of travel were not released.
Most of the travel was interstate but some international trips for Mr McRoberts and then-deputy commissioner Shayne Maines made up the bulk of the tab, including to London, Singapore, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York for various conferences.
The trips were disclosed by Police Minister Peter Chandler during Estimates earlier this month. The NT News reported last week police were aware of allegations of the potential rorting of the pensioners scheme as far back as October 2012.
Police Commissioner Reese Kershaw said the police wanted to disclose the trips in an effort to be open and transparent. He said there were no suspicious charges found in the travel.
“That was one of the first questions I asked in January,” Mr Kershaw said. “There was nothing untoward or any anomalies in any of that (travel). But of course, we’re now not using (Latitude).”
Mr Kershaw added police were now exclusively booking through the Government-run central booking agency, which all departments are expected to switch over to soon.
“A lot of us were not aware we were using that agency for official travel,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have been unusual.”
The NT Ombudsman’s report disclosed that Ms Kamitsis had given Mr McRoberts “gifts” in the past and called for the police to implement a gift registry and better procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest.
An investigation into Ms Kamitsis’ alleged rorting of the pensioners and carers travel concession scheme, labelled Operation Subutai, is still ongoing.
Ms Kamitsis is currently facing 132 charges relating to an alleged rort of more than $100,000.
The NT Police’s Special References Unit is currently investigating one “anomaly” in Government travel booked by Latitude through the Department of the Chief Minister.
A criminal investigation conducted by the Australian Federal Police into Mr McRoberts’ alleged interference with Operation Subutai is also expected shortly.