THREE figures who allege they were targeted for political reasons in the biggest undercover probe in Victoria’s history want to ensure any fresh investigation into the conduct of Operation Briars is not sabotaged by former members of the Office of Police Integrity.
Former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby, former police union head Paul Mullett and former police union delegate and detective Peter Lalor said yesterday the state’s new anti-corruption body should make Operation Briars a priority.
Mr Ashby, Mr Mullett and Mr Lalor, all of whom lost their jobs in the fallout from Briars and the OPI’s related Operation Diana, said they had been deliberately targeted because of their criticisms of the OPI, the then police chief Christine Nixon and her then deputy Simon Overland, who subsequently became chief commissioner.
The three said that any officers involved in Briars should be forbidden from having any role in investigating the operation at the new Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission, now likely to be up and running in June.
Mr Lalor said it should be one of IBAC’s first priorities to identify what went on, and why, to ensure it never happened again.
“None of those involved in Briars can be part of any anti-corruption investigation of it,” he said.
Mr Ashby said as those OPI officers could become key persons of interest in a “proper investigation”, they must not be allowed to have anything to do with it.
Mr Mullett said the three were targeted by a rogue law enforcement agency, “that abused its powers and position to get us. Those who were involved in that must be segregated.”
Scores of OPI staff expecting to work for IBAC could be in limbo for months after Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu yesterday refused to guarantee their jobs, despite it being previous policy that as many as possible should be transferred.
Asked if OPI staff would be moving to IBAC, Mr Baillieu said: “Well, that will be a matter for the commissioner.”
Briars, which cost more than $20 million and ran for more than three years from 2007, was started by Mr Overland on the word of a prolific liar and killer, whose former lawyer, Bernie Balmer, said this week that key parts of his story were fantasy.
Mr Overland, Ms Nixon and the OPI have repeatedly denied they were parties to any wrongdoing, and accuse The Australian of waging a campaign against them.
The government refused to offer OPI director Michael Strong a job at IBAC because it said it was looking for a fresh start. Anti-Corruption Commission Minister Andrew McIntosh refused this week to endorse the work of the OPI under Mr Strong, who quit two weeks ago.
Mr Baillieu yesterday strongly indicated that the government was close to appointing the IBAC commissioner, the candidate expected to be a Supreme Court judge, former judge or with the qualifications to be a judge.
Retired Supreme Court judges Murray Kellam and Tim Smith are considered frontrunners.
Mr Baillieu refused to say whether the commissioner would be announced before Christmas, but the government is under intense pressure to have the commission fully operational by the middle of next year, a year late.
Mr Baillieu yesterday gave a guarantee that public hearings would be held by IBAC.