17th October 2021

The Parliamentary Inquiry into the closure of ICook Foods, ‘Slug-gate’, has released its second report into this fiasco. As expected, it weighed heavily into the Health Department and Greater Dandenong Council. Adding substantial weight to the CAA call for Recall petitions for Government and Local Government at https://chng.it/R8HJ8Hk8

The report and all documents referred to in this article can be viewed at  https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/1001-lsic-lc/inquiry-into-the-closure-of-i-cook-foods-pty-ltd

The report produced fourteen findings and made five recommendations, and they are in addition to the findings and recommendations of the first report.

The Inquiry wisely steered away from delving into the alleged criminality in this matter. Doing so could compromise due process and risk the success of prosecution; however, they were clear on who should be addressing these issues. A view often expressed by the CAA.

Referring to a leaked Police Briefing Paper the Inquiry recommended-

“It recommended further investigation by Victoria Police to ‘identify any alleged corruption or misuse of office’.  However, at the time of the brief, Victoria Police did not pursue the investigation further.

The concerns probed in the police brief are serious allegations which should be fully investigated. As stated in the first report, allegations of this nature call into question the integrity of Victoria’s food safety framework and the processes undertaken by regulatory authorities. “

The Chief Commissioner has announced a further Investigation after this initial Briefing Paper. However, the Victim is less than confident that this investigation is proceeding as he has only been advised that the new Investigators are compiling another report – not an investigation.

The area’s where we believe the Inquiry erred or was misled were-

In relation to the actual closing of ICooks by the Chief Health Officer.

A reference to ‘temporary closure’ of ICooks was, at best ‘disingenuous. The mechanics and processes adopted by Health Department and Greater Dandenong Council ensured that ICook Foods, no matter what ICooks did to address the claimed failures, many spurious; the closure Order was not lifted until well after the period that all current contracts held by ICooks moved into default and clients were forced to move to an alternate supplier decimating the ICooks business.

That process, by any measure, is corruption.

Ironically, and surprise, surprise, there was only one supplier left in the market capable of dealing with this influx, the Government-sponsored and dramatically financially inept basket case, called Community Chef.

Other businesses that would have been capable of dealing with the influx of work due to the closure of ICooks had previously ceased to operate in this space as a result of the entry into the market of Community Chef and their anti-competitive advantages and preferential treatment gifted them by Government making competition against them fraught.

Many of ICooks clients had previously moved to Community Chef after the fanfare of their entering the market but had moved back to ICooks before the Closure Order. This, in part, explains why the Community Chef was only operating at 25% capacity and bleeding rivers of cash.

It is where that river runs that is the key to this issue.

Although the Inquiry report referenced the Auditor General, why the Auditor General wasn’t tasked with examining the money trails of Community Chef when it is clear the motive of this artifice called Community Chef, cost us millions that are unaccounted for defies comprehension.

Where did the money go?

There is the matter of the not insignificant, not far short of $10 Million they borrowed from the ANZ Bank, which we the taxpayers have to repay.

Where did that money go?

How any Bank could possibly countenance a loan of that magnitude to a company with a nine-year track record of failure and as financially inept as Community Chef is again beyond comprehension. The circumstances of this loan and its disbursement need to be examined very closely.

Given the hoops, legitimate borrowers have to go through to get a few thousand dollars, let alone millions, raises some very serious questions as to the propriety and processes around that loan.

The stench of corruption lingers on this transaction.

Accounting trickery identified in the Pitcher Partners Report into the entity’s finances exposed the habit of annual depreciation being manipulated to lessen the annual losses.

The insolvency bullet was dodged by Community Chef by a $1m letter of comfort supplied to the entity by the Health Department- again, our money.

Accounting chicanery? Where was the Auditor General?

In fairness to the Inquiry, we do not believe the ANZ loan was adequately exposed to the Inquiry, and there is perhaps a very good if nefarious, reason to play this down by the bureaucrats involved.

Intelligence that we have been gathering as to the identity of suspected beneficiaries of this artifice is not inconsistent with other matters currently being scrutinised elsewhere; however, there is only one sure way to discover the truth. A Forensic Audit of the financial transactions of the companies that make up Community Chef, and a thorough investigation without fear or favour by Victoria Police.

IBAC may also have a role to play to examine allegations of Police corruption in this matter.

The air needs to be cleared, with the cards to fall, where they may?

That audit, we believe, will expose the true culprits and beneficiaries of both individuals and or other entities.

The unpleasant smell that lingers around this issue is that of something rotten.

The CAA will not be satisfied until the whole issue is properly investigated, and not just the offences committed against ICooks, but also those against the State of Victoria.