The Australian Federal Police are investigating whether any criminal offences were committed in the $32.8 million payment for land, known as the Leppington Triangle in Western Sydney, valued 11 months later at only $3 million.
The AFP launched the investigation into the Commonwealth deal on Friday after it was revealed last month government officials paid ten times too much for the site, with plans it would form part of the Badgerys Creek airport.
The 12.26-hectare land parcel, a dairy farm, was owned by billionaire businessmen Tony and Ron Perich through their Leppington Pastoral Company.
In its report, released last month, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) found that the federal government paid the company $26.7 million more than the land’s value in July 2018.
When contacted, the AFP said that it will seek to identify if any potential offences took place in the matter.
“The AFP can confirm it is conducting an investigation to identify potential criminal offences relating to issues identified in an ANAO report into the sale of land to the Commonwealth at Badgerys Creek,” an AFP spokesperson said.
“This investigation remains ongoing, and it is too early to speculate on potential outcomes, so no further comment will be provided.”
The land deal had been managed by the Western Sydney Unit, which sits within the Department of Infrastructure. The land was purchased with the aim of eventually being used by 2050 as part of the airport’s second runway.
Only 11 months after the purchase was made, the department’s 2018-2019 financial statements valued the Leppington Triangle at just $3.06 million— triggering the ANAO audit.
The price paid by the Commonwealth was 22 times higher than what the NSW government paid for its portion of the same land.
In September, auditor-general Grant Hehir said the department’s approach “omitting key information in the briefings to decision-makers and ministers was inappropriate and inconsistent with acting ethically.”
Federal communications minister Paul Fletcher, who was cities and urban infrastructure minister in 2018—the time of the purchase—has said he was only made aware of the massively inflated land price when the ANAO released its audit last month.
“The Auditor-General report said information was concealed from senior officials at the department, as well as the minister,” Fletcher has said.
Prior to its purchase, the Leppington Pastoral Company had been involved in a 10-year dispute with the federal government over the land parcel.
In 2016, approval was given to purchase the Leppington Triangle by compulsory acquisition. The land was then purchased in agreement with the Leppington Pastoral Company two years later.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Perich family.