Former NSW minister Chris Hartcher’s second combative day before the corruption watchdog marks the end of this tranche of hearings.
Some politicians take the high road after a stint before the NSW corruption watchdog.
Chris Hartcher chose the low road – the basement carpark, in fact.
The sidelined ex-Liberal energy minister beat a hasty retreat from Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) offices on Tuesday afternoon, refusing to speak to journalists and shielding his face from the cameras.
His departure marks the end of two combative days of evidence, and the start of a two-month interlude in the ICAC’s cash-for-favours inquiry.
Operation Spicer has heard Mr Hartcher masterminded the creation of “sham” company EightByFive, which allegedly issued fake invoices to disguise illicit political donations from property developers including Sydney’s Gazal family and former coal mogul Nathan Tinkler’s Buildev.
He is also accused of using his own nephew to launder $4000 in Liberal Party donations through his old law firm and then through a business run by the partner of long-time aide Ray Carter, before “pocketing” the cash.
On Tuesday he denied instructing Mr Carter – who has admitted to soliciting donations from banned political donors in the lead-up to the 2011 state election – to lie to the inquiry.
Barrister James Trevallion put it to Mr Hartcher that he showed up at Mr Carter’s house unannounced in November last year after ICAC investigators began circling.
“You said to him that you wanted to get your stories straight in respect to the $4000 because you knew it was likely to become an issue at ICAC,” Mr Trevallion said.
“And you told him that he should say, if he was asked, that he kept the money himself.”
“I reject that absolutely,” Mr Hartcher shot back.
Under cross-examination from his own counsel, Mr Hartcher slammed suggestions from counsel assisting, Geoffrey Watson SC, that he leaked details of the notorious $3000 bottle of Grange that brought down former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell.
“I deeply resent that question being asked and it was completely untrue,” he said.
“Mr Watson, you recklessly asked that question.”
Tempers had cooled since Monday’s evidence, when the verbal sparring between Mr Watson and Mr Hartcher became so heated Commissioner Megan Latham ordered the parties to “back off right now”.
“I could try and blame it on the fact that I’m tired, or I could try and blame it on the fact that I’m red-haired. I’ll just leave it at this: I apologise for what I did and I will try and correct my conduct,” Mr Watson told Ms Latham on Tuesday morning.
The inquiry has now been suspended to allow evidence that allegedly implicates former NSW police minister Mike Gallacher in the donation rort scandal, to be further investigated.
Mr Hartcher was excused from the witness box – but not from his summons, meaning he may be recalled when proceedings resume on August 4.