Former Labor MP Craig Thomson has been granted bail for fraud charges, following an investigation into an alleged multimillion-dollar migration scam.
Thomson appeared at Gosford Local Court by video link for the release application.
His case will return to court in February 2022.
Craig Thomson Fraud Investigation
Australian Border Force (ABF) officers began the investigation in August 2019, with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) taking the lead shortly afterwards.
The AFP's Acting Commander Investigations, Eastern Command, Craig Bellis, spoke to media outlets stating, "The alleged offences in this matter involved the exploitation of federal government programs designed to assist Australian businesses."
The investigation involved a number of government bodies, including AUSTRAC, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Home Affairs.
AUSTRAC national manager Michael Tink said his team performed deep financial analysis, tracing money that identified more than $2 million in income that was likely derived from fraud-related offences.
"This demonstrates financial reporting from industry combined with AUSTRAC's specialist financial analysis plays an instrumental role in detecting and stopping criminals seeking to defraud government programs," he said.
The ABF's Assistant Commissioner East and Port Operations, Erin Dale said, "Cash for visa' schemes . target vulnerable visa holders who may not be aware of Australian laws and workplace entitlements."
"Together, the ABF and AFP will continue to pursue facilitators of visa and migration fraud, while protecting foreign workers who play a vital role within the Australian community," she said.
Craig Thomson Charged with Fraud
The latest Craig Thomson fraud charges relate to allegations that he facilitated more than 130 fraudulent visa applications over four years. Police claim the scheme earned over than $2 million in profit.
The allegations are that Craig Thomson facilitated a "sophisticated" visa fraud scheme where some overseas workers were sponsored by businesses who had no knowledge of the arrangement, a court has heard.
The visa applications were said to have focused on the food service and regional farm worker industries.
The 57-year-old's Central Coast home was raided in July 2021, with police taking several suitcases and bags of evidence.
Two other Central Coast premises were raided at the same time as Thomson's property as well as two premises in Revesby in southwest Sydney, two premises in Rockdale in Sydney's south, one in East Maitland, and another in Bundaberg West in Queensland.
Thomson's home was searched again on Wednesday, 17 November 2021.
He was arrested and charged with fraud offences that day. Police laid 30 offences, including 20 charges under the Migration Act 1958 of providing false documents and false or misleading information relating to non-citizens.
All offences have a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment.
Previous Fraud Charges
Thomson was suspended by the Labor Party in 2012 while a sitting MP after he was accused of misusing members' funds while a Health Services Union official.
He was convicted of misusing funds in 2014.
The Federal Court later found he spent more than $300,000 of HSU funds to pay for sex workers and his election campaign.
Bail Granted for Fraud Charges
Craig Thomson was granted bail for fraud charges at Gosford Court House.
Prosecutors alleged that he was a "pivotal" facilitator to the scheme. They also claimed that Thomson made a fraudulent application for JobKeeper payments in relation to a cafe he operated.
Thomson's bail application lawyers told the court that he was a family man with no assets to his name and was on the JobSeeker benefit. It was suggested that he was not a flight risk because he did not want to be separated from his children.
Mr Thomson's children were "all he has left" after separating from his wife.
"All of the assets from the marriage are in his estranged wife's name," his lawyers told the court.
The court heard that the former member for Dobell had previously been on bail for a significant period of time, which suggested that he was able to comply with bail conditions. This related to dishonesty offences in Victoria in 2014.
Thomson had operated three businesses for the last seven years - two of which were subject to the allegations. Those were a labour-hire business, which is the subject of most of the allegations and a cafe which no longer trades.
The final business was a fruits and vegetables export business.
The 57-year-old's fraud lawyers argued that he had been aware of the investigation since July 2021. At that time, he was interviewed by police on two separate occasions.
However, a Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) lawyer opposed bail being granted. They said the alleged facts indicated Mr Thomson had a "propensity towards dishonesty and the involvement in falsification of documents".
Delving into the details of the case, the prosecution claimed Craig Thomson and an accountant discussed the potential fabrication of evidence in the case as recently as October 2021, when amendments were made to a business activity statement from 2020. This was after Mr Thomson's police interview.
The current charges related to 10 visa applicants, all said to have been sponsored by a business called Peppermint Grove. However, it was alleged that there were up to 130 visa applicants sponsored at 25 small businesses connected to Mr Thomson. As a result, there was said to be a likelihood of further charges being laid.
The prosecutor submitted that the former Labor politician had engaged in a "pattern of conduct" with the 10 visa applicants, including arranging for false documents to be lodged with authorities. It was argued that the common link between the applicants, the migration agents and the businesses in each case was Mr Thomson.
However, the court also heard that Thomson did not personally lodge the documents, although it was suggested that he was the only person who could have caused them to be given to the migration agents who did. This is known as a circumstantial case.
In granting Thomson bail, Magistrate Jennifer Price described the facts of the case as complex. She said the financial records showed $970,000 was deposited into bank accounts associated with Mr Thomson relating to named visa applicants, with a further $1.5 million in deposits unable to be attributed to any names.
If the Craig Thomson fraud charges were proven, they would demonstrate "a significant degree of planning and premeditation" in the apparently sophisticated arrangements.
The prosecution evidence included bank accounts, emails, text messages, business documents, witness statements, and recordings of Mr Thomson, which the magistrate said present a strong albeit circumstantial case.
However, she also accepted that he had lived in the Central Coast community for a lengthy period of time and has strong community ties.
The bail conditions included that Thomson must reside at his home in Terrigal, surrender his passport, not approach any international points of departure, report to police daily, avoid using encrypted communications, and not contact witnesses in the case.
Should Mr Thomson wish to vary bail conditions, he can make a formal application to the court.
The case will return to Gosford Local Court again in February 2022.
Fraud in New South Wales falls under the charge of 'Obtaining financial advantage or property by deception' pursuant to Section 192E of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
The definition of fraud is acting dishonestly to cause a financial advantage or disadvantage.
In order for you to be found guilty of obtaining financial advantage by deception charges, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
1. You received property or a financial advantage, OR
2. You caused a financial loss, AND
3. The gain or loss was caused by your actions, AND
4. Those actions were dishonest. Dishonesty is to be assessed according to standards of ordinary people and requires you to know your actions to be dishonest according to those standards. If an Accused's dishonest actions were not the main cause of the gain or loss then the charge will be dismissed.
The maximum penalty for 'dishonestly obtain financial advantage or property by deception' is 10 years imprisonment when heard in the District Court.
Looking at statistics since 2018, 32% of persons found guilty of this offence were sentenced to some kind of imprisonment. 16% of persons were sentenced to full-time imprisonment. Only 10% of person received no conviction for fraud.
Jail is a real possibility and avoiding a conviction is not easy. Fraud is taken extremely seriously by the Courts. Having the right lawyer makes all the difference in the ultimate penalty you will receive.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.