ICAC: Gazals entertained Chris Hartcher on luxury yacht but deny paying $100,000 in bribes

Nabil and Nicholas Gazal in front of the Orange Grove discount outlets centre site in Liverpool. Picture: Luke Fuda
Nabil and Nicholas Gazal in front of the Orange Grove discount outlets centre site in Liverpool. Picture: Luke Fuda

The developers behind the controversial Orange Grove factory outlet in Liverpool have been accused of paying more than $100,000 in bribes to a company linked to former state Liberal minister Chris Hartcher in exchange for his support for the project.

Gazcorp director Nabil Gazal admitted at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Wednesday that he was a close friend of Mr Hartcher and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts and his family had entertained both men on board the family's luxury 82-foot yacht Octavia.

But he and his brother Nicholas denied their company Gazcorp made monthly payments of $10,000 to Eightbyfive, a company set up by Hartcher's former adviser Tim Koelma, as part of a "sham" to funnel donations to the Liberal Party before the 2011 election in breach of the ban on developers making political donations.

The inquiry heard that in August 2007 the Gazals paid for Mr Hartcher to fly to Hamilton Island in Queensland to join the family on a sailing trip around the Whitsundays. Mr Roberts has insisted he paid his own airfare and costs.

"How is our friend Nabil [Gazal senior, the late father of the witness] - it's almost a year since we had that great weekend - I assume the euphoria of Anthony Roberts suggesting it should be annual has not been actioned!" a former Liberal MP and adviser to Mr Hartcher, Andrew Humpherson, emailed his former boss in September 2008.

Mr Hartcher also cruised with the Gazal family in the Whitsundays in 2008.

An email tendered at the inquiry reveals Mr Hartcher organised a cruise for his colleagues aboard the Gazals' luxury yacht in November that year.

Those invited to cruise around Sydney Harbour on the Octavia were former police minister Mike Gallacher, who resigned from the ministry following allegations aired at the ICAC last week, Mr Roberts, former Attorney-General Greg Smith and his son Nathaniel, Liberal MP David Clarke, and Chris Spence. Mr Spence was allegedly involved in the Eightbyfive scheme.

The ICAC heard that Gazcorp paid $137,000 in monthly instalments into Eightbyfive. Most of the payments were made before the March 2011 election but $16,000 was paid between September 2011 and April 2012 when Mr Koelma was working in Mr Hartcher's ministerial office.

Nabil Gazal insisted the payments to Eightbyfive were for media and political advice but counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said the advice was "facile", "worthless" and "trash" and the arrangement was set up to hide the fact that Gazcorp was making illegal donations.

Nabil Gazal denied the payments after the election were made as a "bribe" or "recompense" for Mr Hartcher supporting Gazcorp's designer outlet at Liverpool, known as Orange Grove, which was closed by the former Carr Labor government. 

After support from Mr Hartcher, the land was re-zoned under the Coalition government last year to allow the centre to reopen.

Gazcorp sparked a political scandal in 2004 when it alleged the Labor government closed Orange Grove as a favour for nearby rival Westfield. In August 2005, ICAC found there was no evidence of this.