The University of New England’s (UNE) vice-chancellor knew of rumours that “all might not have been above board” under a deal involving the chancellor buying a share of a pub being sold off by the university, a corruption inquiry has heard.
Professor Robin Pollard has told the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) he contacted lawyers for advice after John Cassidy told him in January, 2006, that he had invested in the Tattersalls Hotel – an Armidale establishment recently sold off by the university’s student union in a liquidation sale.
Prof Pollard, who was acting vice-chancellor at the time, began his own log of events in relation to the Tattersalls deal, starting with the note: “Late December 2005-Early January 2006. I heard rumours that all might not have been above board.”
The log, tendered to watchdog on Thursday, also noted a meeting Prof Pollard held with UNE business and administration director Graeme Dennehy in February, 2006.
Mr Dennehy expressed concerns to Prof Pollard about the Tattersalls deal – including that Mr Cassidy had access to a confidential valuation of the hotel and that he had influenced the rejection of a $3 million offer for the property.
The ICAC has heard Mr Cassidy’s business partner, Darrell Hendry, won a closed tender for the pub in December, 2005 with a late bid of $2.65 million after Mr Cassidy alerted him to the buying opportunity.
Mr Cassidy also emerged as a major shareholder of the pub through a company in which he and Mr Hendry were directors.
Mr Cassidy is facing allegations before ICAC that he used confidential information to help Mr Hendry buy the Tattersalls Hotel and that he hid his relationship with Mr Hendry and his own part in the purchase.
Mr Dennehy told Prof Pollard rumours were circulating in Armidale about the deal, and that he was concerned that “there could remain a perception that the Chancellor gained an advantage in his purchase of a share of the hotel”.
Prof Pollard told the ICAC he sought advice from solicitors Minter Ellison, who provided questions that he should put to Mr Cassidy.
In the resulting interview, which was tendered in evidence said he had not inspected the hotel or considered investing in it before January, 2006.
Previous evidence to the commission has been that Mr Cassidy was seen inspecting the hotel’s upstairs quarters in November, 2005, and that he helped interview a prospective manager for the pub in December that year.
Mr Cassidy will appear before the inquiry in Sydney on Friday.