Nothing wrong with loan to V/Line boss, cleaning firm’s manager says

A cleaning company manager who oversaw a multimillion-dollar contract with V/Line claims she was not doing anything wrong by loaning the then-V/Line chief executive hundreds of thousands of dollars for a deposit on his new home.

Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission has launched fresh public hearings into the most significant transport corruption investigation the state has seen.

Operation Esperance is examining evidence that senior public officials within the transport bureaucracy, including sacked V/Line chief executive James Pinder, were bribed by major cleaning contractor Transclean.

Marie Tsakopoulos appears before the public hearing on Monday.

Former Transclean employee Marie Tsakopoulos – who was responsible for overseeing the company’s contract with V/Line – told the hearings on Monday she arranged $320,000 to be transferred to Mr Pinder for the deposit on his $2.5 million Williamstown home in 2019.

It came soon after Transclean won a contract with V/Line worth up to $40 million in 2018.

Mr Pinder took direct control of the contract instead of the rail operator’s board, giving him the power to extend the deal to a full seven-year term, adding $23 million to its value, IBAC has previously heard.

Former V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s Williamstown home.Credit:www.realestate.com.au

Ms Tsakopoulos told the inquiry she loaned Mr Pinder $200,000 of her own money and gathered $120,000 from Transclean boss George Haritos and Alex Kyritsis, who is Mr Haritos’ brother-in-law and co-director of Transclean.

She claimed the money was a “personal loan” from the trio and did not come from Transclean.

When asked by Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, whether she was “concerned about the legality or wrongfulness” of the loan, Ms Tsakopoulos said: “No, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

Counsel assisting Paul Lawrie asked: “You didn’t see there was any conflict of interest or impropriety in sourcing those monies in that way and lending them to the CEO of V/Line?”

“No,” Ms Tsakopoulos said.

She also denied Mr Haritos had told her to hide that the money for the deposit had came from him or Transclean.

Ms Tsakopoulos was also questioned about a series of separate loans Transclean made to her for apartments she planned to buy in 2016 and 2017.

It was heard that Ms Tsakopoulos accepted $89,000 from Mr Haritos for a deposit on a Docklands flat she was considering purchasing in mid-2016. But Ms Tsakopoulos claimed she did not know how she raised the money, or why Transclean was the source of the funds.

Former Transclean employee Ms Tsakopoulos received $89,000 for a deposit on this Docklands apartment.

In 2017 Ms Tsakopoulos received a separate $150,000 loan from Transclean via a subcontractor for the South Yarra apartment she ultimately purchased.

Ms Tsakopoulos said she could not remember how or why the money was transferred into her account, and initially denied it was a loan from Mr Haritos. After Ms Tsakopoulos was shown a 2017 email in which she stated the $150,000 loan came from Mr Haritos, she surmised it must have been bonuses she was owed.

Photos taken during the IBAC raid on sacked V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s home.Credit:IBAC

IBAC’s hearings will run over four days this week. It comes five months after witnesses were first called over a six-day period last year.

Metro’s former rolling stock manager Peter Bollas was sacked last year after he admitted to IBAC that he accepted up to $150,000 from Transclean in exchange for furthering Transclean’s interests at Metro. This included tipping Transclean off about upcoming independent audits.

The cleaning company, paid $1.3 million a month extra by the state government to sanitise the city’s trains at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, allegedly cut corners on cleaning while paying off Mr Bollas and Mr Pinder.

Covert audio recordings played to the hearings captured Mr Bollas and Mr Pinder allegedly plotting to secure Transclean extra cleaning work during COVID-19 in exchange for cash bribes, with Mr Pinder assuring Transclean boss Mr Haritos the extra work would “boost your coffers”.

CCTV footage captured Mr Haritos withdrawing between $8000 and $12,000 before meeting Mr Pinder at cafes, car parks and even V/Line’s offices on several occasions in 2020.

IBAC launched Operation Esperance in 2018 following previous corruption probes within Victorian transport – Operation Fitzroy in 2014 and Lansdowne in 2017.

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