A man who made explosive allegations about a cash-for-visas scandal in Australia’s immigration detention centres has more evidence of corruption in the visa system, but says he has not been able to hand it over to investigators as he hasn’t heard from them in the 10 months since he went public.
Nauroze Anees, a 32-year-old Pakistani citizen who has been in Australia since 2007, is currently detained at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. He has been in detention since 2016.
In a blog post published in February 2019, Anees claimed a fellow detainee had bragged to him that he had a connection who could free immigration detainees for $80,000. The bribery allegations were reported by Nine (formerly Fairfax) newspapers shortly after he published the blog, and an investigation was launched.
Anees says he now has further evidence suggesting other detainees have been offered the chance to pay significant sums to have their visas reinstated, with the promise of release within four to five weeks.
The evidence suggests a detainee who had been convicted of serious criminal offences had been offered the chance to pay a $50,000 bribe to secure his release. BuzzFeed News has reviewed the evidence and is not publishing further details for legal reasons.
Since it began in February, the investigation into Anees’ original allegations has been tossed between the Department of Home Affairs and corruption watchdog the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI). Anees said he has never heard from investigators and has not been able to turn over his evidence.
“The Department of Home Affairs, ACLEI, no law enforcement agency, has made any attempt to contact me,” he told BuzzFeed News.
Anees shared the explosive evidence with BuzzFeed News and Greens senator Nick McKim, who has been vocal in calling for corruption allegations to be properly investigated.
“This is new evidence on top of allegations already made about apparent corruption within Australia’s visa system, and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears,” McKim said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “We already know of other allegations of serious corruption that have languished between ACLEI and Home Affairs and not been effectively investigated.”
After failing to hear from investigators, Anees attempted to pass the new information on to the office of home affairs minister Peter Dutton at the end of November. Staff in Dutton’s office took down his name and phone number when he rang to say he had evidence about corruption but never called him back, he said.
“The nature of the corruption matters I exposed were pretty significant, so I was expecting that at least someone would contact me to get further evidence,” Anees said. “I was very disheartened that nobody did. It’s just unreal that nobody’s contacted me to date.”
The Department of Home Affairs commenced an internal investigation in February but then referred Anees’ allegations to ACLEI in March. ACLEI then sent the matter back to the department on April 2, 2019, saying it did not have the resources to investigate.
That means the department is supposed to be investigating itself.
But in the months since, department bureaucrats — including home affairs boss Michael Pezzullo — indicated in Senates Estimates hearings they were unaware the matter was in their hands.
On April 4, 2019, department deputy secretary Rachel Noble told a Senate committee that ACLEI had received the referral but the department had received “no further advice” from the body.
On Oct. 21, 2019 — six months after ACLEI referred the investigation back to the department — senior bureaucrats said they hadn’t heard anything from ACLEI on the issue since the March referral.
But the home affairs department wrote to the committee the following day to say that was wrong and correct the record.
“ACLEI referred this matter back to Home Affairs for investigations to be conducted with ACLEI oversight,” wrote Mark Brown, the first assistant secretary of the integrity, security and assurance division, who had appeared before Senate Estimates the previous day.
“The matter is currently under investigation. The department does not comment on current investigations,” he wrote.
ACLEI head Michael Griffin told senators in an estimates hearing on Oct. 22, 2019 that he did not know whether the department had commenced an investigation. His agency’s “oversight” role commences when the department develops an investigation plan, but he had not seen one, he said.
Griffin said it would be “not unreasonable” for the department to conclude that there was “nothing more to get from” Anees because the allegations did not relate to him, and a task force was already investigating corruption around visas.
Senator McKim said in the same session that Anees had been “waiting patiently” for six months “to provide extra evidence that he wished to furnish them with that was not part of his original, public allegations”.
Anees obtained the evidence while waiting to hear from investigators. He also claims to have further evidence around the first case that he wrote about in February 2019, in which he alleged William Betham — who spent eight years in jail over drug trafficking but whose visa was later reinstated — had told him about somebody offering visas for $80,000.
The original allegations angered the government. After an interview with Anees aired on Channel 10 in February, Dutton issued a scathing media release about Anees, calling him a “liar” and “convicted criminal”. The release falsely indicated Anees was the subject of an Intervention Violence Order. The order had been struck out in 2013.
Dutton’s statement also said that the Betham matter did not come to his office for consideration, but was decided by a department official. Guardian Australia reported last week that the department had prepared a ministerial briefing on Betham’s case, contradicting Dutton’s claim. According to the report, a whistleblower (not Anees) has complained to the Commonwealth Ombudsman that Dutton’s claim was “patently false”.
The department had previously said the visa decision relating to Betham was not provided to Dutton or his office for consideration or decision.
Through his lawyers, Betham has denied offering a bribe to be released.
Anees told BuzzFeed News he was motivated to expose corruption because he believed it disadvantaged people like him who were “going by the book”.
“I didn’t have so much as a parking ticket for the last four years prior to my detention,” he said. “And these people who are the poster boys for the section 501 laws [which allow the government to cancel visas of convicted offenders] are actually paying the bribes and getting out.”
Anees said the evidence he possessed was “invaluable”.
“If an independent investigation were to be conducted, these people can actually start interviewing and use their legal powers to track down the middle man who’s organising the bribes between the detainees and the Department of Home Affairs officials,” he said.
The blog Anees was using to publish his allegations was recently suspended by Medium. He continues to maintain an active presence on social media.
Anees claims he has been victimised in detention as a result of his claims, both by fellow detainees and guards. Anees has made a separate complaint to ACLEI over an alleged serious assault in detention.
He said he wants the government to provide him with “proper whistleblower protections”. It is an offence under the ACLEI legislation to threaten or harm someone because they have made corruption allegations.
At the estimates hearing on Oct. 22, McKim asked Griffin if “reputational detriment” could fall within that offence.
Griffin said he “wouldn’t rule it out”. McKim later added: “I’m suggesting that [Anees has] had false information made public by minister Dutton outside the parliament.”
Anees came to Australia on a student visa in 2007. After he started dating a severely mentally ill woman, he dropped out of university to become her full-time carer. He became homeless and committed a number of lower-level offences, serving three months in prison.
His student visa was cancelled and his application for a partner visa was rejected. He is appealing that decision in the courts.
In response to BuzzFeed News’ inquiries, ACLEI said its practice was not to comment on matters relating to its operations.
Dutton and the Department of Home Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.