The Department of Home Affairs finalised an internal investigation into allegations of “cash for visas” just 15 days after interviewing the complainant and receiving a recording of a detainee discussing a $50,000 payment for a visa.
Department officials interviewed the complainant, Nauroze Anees, in April and obtained the recording, after questions were raised about why an initial investigation had concluded there was no evidence of a “cash for visas” scam without talking directly to Anees first.
When he was detained on Christmas Island in 2019, Anees said that a fellow detainee, whose visa had been cancelled on character grounds due to his conviction for drug trafficking, claimed he would bribe departmental officials to ensure his release. Anees detailed the claims in an online blog post.
The allegations were denied by the man via his lawyer, and dismissed by the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, but prompted an internal investigation.
During a Senate committee hearing in March last year, Greens senator Nick McKim asked department deputy secretary Cheryl-anne Moy questions relating to the investigation into cash for visas.
McKim was told the matter had been concluded without evidence being found that supported the allegations, but Moy agreed to find out if Anees had been interviewed as part of the department’s investigation.
On 23 April, Matthew Challenger, the department’s assistant director of integrity investigations, and another department officer, interviewed Anees in detention.
Later that day, Anees emailed Challenger a recording of a 2019 phone call, lasting more than an hour, between himself and another detainee.
Anees also provided the department with the name and contact details of the other detainee involved in the conversation, who was not the same man Anees had previously written about.
In the phone call, the other detainee makes multiple references to being offered a visa for cash, and his dilemma about whether to take this path or continue with the legal process.
He claims that he has been told that for a $50,000 fee – half to be paid upfront and half upon his release – he can be released from detention in four or five weeks. Other detainees he knew had taken up the offer, the detainee says, and been released within the promised timeframe.
But the detainee was unsure as the federal court had recently upheld a decision to revoke his visa cancellation and he thought his prospects of release after almost four years in detention were promising.
In the phone call with Anees he says he cannot afford to pay the legal fees for his ongoing case as well as the money being asked to apparently secure another way out.
“I’ve come across somebody who has put something on the table that says to me, if you can come up with [$50,000], we’ll help you properly ... it’s going to cost me $20,000 to $40,000, to go through the solicitors.
“If they don’t get me out straight away, and the lawyers start asking me for money ... the lawyers could tell me to get fucked.
“I’ve gotta spend the money with these lawyers, or I’ve gotta spend money with these bastards.”
The detainee had his visa cancelled in 2015 after serving multiple prison terms for drug, family violence and assault offences.
He has since been released from detention. Guardian Australia is not suggesting any wrongdoing on behalf of the man or the department in relation to his release.
On 8 May 2020, the department responded to McKim’s questions on notice. It said it had interviewed Anees but he “was not able to provide investigators further information or direct evidence to support the allegations”.
“The department investigated Mr Anees’ ‘cash for visa’ allegations,” the department said.
“The department identified the visa decision maker was a departmental official, not Minister Dutton as claimed in Mr Anees’ article. The investigation did not identify any corrupt conduct by any individual and determined that the decisions that were the subject of Mr Anees’ allegations were legitimate.”
The department did not respond to a request for comment from Guardian Australia about why the recording was not considered to be further information or direct evidence that would assist the investigation, or why the initial investigation was concluded without speaking to Anees.
Anees has referred the matter to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity , which was contacted for comment.
Anees was released from detention in November last year.
The Department of Home Affairs has launched another investigation into cash for visa allegations which arose as part of Operation Keppel, the long-running NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption probe into former NSW MP Daryl Maguire.