ICAC finds former RMS director corrupt for awarding over $12.2 million in work for the benefit of friends and himself

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Friday, May 20, 2022

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has discovered that a then former director of Road and Marine Services (RMS) engaged in serious corrupt conduct by awarding more than $12.2 million in work to two companies owned by his friends and manipulating the processes. to promote and benefit these enterprises and himself.

In a report released today, Inquiry into the award of contracts by employees of the former NSW Roads and Maritime Services (Operation Ember), the Commission finds that, from November 2015 to June 2016, Samer Soliman, while Director of RMS’ Heavy Vehicle Programs (HVP) Unit, abused his position to obtain six contracts of RMS worth nearly $346,000 to be awarded to his friend Stephen Thammiah’s company, Novation Engineering Pty Ltd. The Commission found that Novation was in fact a joint venture created with Mr Soliman.

The Commission found that Mr. Soliman also abused his position to engage with Mr. Thammiah in a deliberate scheme to extract as much profit as possible for Novation from supplying scale spare parts to RMS, which involved, among other things, having RMS Novation pay 27 invoices totaling over $803,000 for scale parts, software and hardware knowing that these items would not be provided or, if provided, would be subject to an exorbitant mark-up by Novation. Mr. Soliman received cash payments totaling $347,200 from Mr. Thammiah in person, or through his own withdrawals from the Novation account, which represented the immediate financial benefit Mr. Soliman obtained from his business common with Mr. Thammiah.

Mr. Soliman helped Novation get appointed to the Heavy Vehicle Maintenance Committee and helped manipulate the bidding processes in favor of Novation. He abused his position to favor Novation by manipulating RMS processes for a tender worth more than $2 million for the purchase of 125 portable scales, and for a tender for a value of more than 7 million dollars for the purchase of 425 portable scales and 70 chargers. In total, Novation was corruptly awarded work totaling more than $10.9 million.

Between January 2017 and August 2018, Mr. Soliman also favored the company of another friend, Ali Hamidi, owner of AZH Consulting Pty Ltd. Mr. Soliman obtained more than 1.3 million dollars in contracts to be awarded to AZH, for the purchase of equipment and the carrying out of studies and tests. .

Between September and November 2017, Mr. Soliman abused his position during the bidding process for the Professional Services Providers (PSC) Panel to ensure that AZH was a successful bidder and was appointed to this panel. This included manipulating the tender specifications for the PSC panel to favor AZH, removing requirements from the tender that it knew AZH could not meet, and highlighting the requirements that he knew he could represent AZH as satisfactory, and by drafting AZH’s bid submission for the PSC Panel. Between June 4, 2017 and August 9, 2018, Mr. Soliman solicited and received $177,450 from Mr. Hamidi in 13 installments as an inducement or reward for performing his official duties to promote AZH and to award the company several RMS contracts. In total, AZH was corruptly awarded work totaling more than $1.3 million.

The Commission found that Mr. Thammiah had engaged in serious acts of corruption. His conduct included submitting invoices for work or parts which he knew were not or would not be performed or supplied; make cash payments or permit Mr. Soliman to withdraw cash in the amount of $347,200 from Novation accounts on the grounds that Mr. Soliman is performing his public official duties to improperly favor Novation in the award
RMS contracts; and for submitting quotes to RMS for the supply of scales knowing that Mr. Soliman had abused his position to favor Novation in the bidding process.

Mr. Hamidi engaged in serious acts of corruption by submitting invoices for work that he knew had not been or would not be performed and that Mr. Soliman would dishonestly arrange payment of the invoices. Mr. Hamidi’s conduct also included filing a submission with RMS for inclusion on the PSC panel, knowing that Mr. Soliman had authored AZH’s submission and that he had used, and would continue to use , his position to favor the nomination of AZH within the PSC panel. His payments to Mr. Soliman totaling $177,450, described above, were also found to be serious corrupt conduct.

RMS HVP Unit Business Systems Analyst Jainesh (Jai) Singh, who was also a friend of Mr. Hamidi and reported to Mr. Soliman, engaged in serious acts of corruption in October 2017, in improperly assisting AZH to be nominated to the PSC panel, recommending his nomination, knowing that his submission contained false and misleading information about the experience and technical competence of AZH and Mr. Hamidi, and deliberately failing to declare his conflict of interest arising from his friendship with Mr. Hamidi. Between February and March 2018, he also partially and dishonestly performed his official duties by recommending Novation as the successful bidder for a contract worth more than $2 million and stating that he had no knowledge of any situation that could lead to a real or perceived conflict of interest. interest, or which might affect him in the performance of his duties both fairly and in the best interests of RMS, when he knew that the friendship between Mr. Soliman and Mr. Thammiah was such a situation.

Mr. Soliman, Mr. Singh, Mr. Thammiah and Mr. Hamidi all knew each other to varying degrees prior to their involvement with RMS. They had all worked at Optus at the same time, though not necessarily in the same section, and Mr. Soliman and Mr. Thammiah had had a close, lifelong friendship since high school. Mr. Hamidi and Mr. Singh formed a close friendship while working at Optus.

The Commission found that RMS had appropriate documented policies and processes relating to the procurement of goods and services that were known and accessible to RMS employees, and that information and advice was available from a centralized procurement team . Mr. Soliman’s corrupt conduct, however, was characterized by deliberate manipulation of procurement processes.

The report observes that other public authorities should note that this survey demonstrates that it can be quite easy for a public official to engage in serious and systemic acts of corruption despite the presence of a detailed policy and procedural framework. “Mr. Soliman’s conduct was not opportunistic – it was planned and he manipulated the controls with strategic intent,” the report said.

The Commission found that Mr. Soliman failed to report conflicts of interest to RMS management and had a significant level of control over relevant RMS procurement processes; he used this control to undermine their integrity for the benefit of Novation and AZH. Its ability to control or manage relevant procurement processes was, in part, facilitated by largely inadequate procurement governance, which resulted in missed opportunities to end its corrupt activity. Mr. Soliman was subject to limited management oversight, which also resulted in missed opportunities to end his corrupt conduct. RMS is now part of Transport for NSW (TfNSW). The Commission made seven recommendations to help TfNSW prevent such behavior from happening again.

The Commission seeks the opinion of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on whether to initiate proceedings. The DPP determines whether criminal charges can be laid and conducts all prosecutions. The Commission is of the view that consideration should be given to obtaining the DPP’s opinion on the prosecution of Mr. Soliman, Mr. Thammiah and Mr. Hamidi for various offences. RMS terminated the employment of Mr. Soliman and Mr. Singh in 2019.

The Commission conducted a public inquiry into this inquiry over 26 days in installments in May, June, August and October 2019. Commissioner Patricia McDonald SC chaired the inquiry, during which 10 witnesses testified.

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