WA top bureaucrat theft 'may exceed $25m'

A senior WA bureaucrat stole millions more in taxpayer funds than first thought, a court has heard.
A senior WA bureaucrat stole millions more in taxpayer funds than first thought, a court has heard.

A senior West Australian bureaucrat and his friend, who are together accused of the state's biggest public sector theft, may have stolen 10 times more than they are currently charged with, a court has heard.

Department of Communities assistant director-general of corporate operations Paul Whyte, 56, and his close associate, 43-year-old Jacob Anthonisz, have been charged with corruption after allegedly raising false invoices for more than $2.5 million in payments to two shell companies.

They faced Perth Magistrates Court on Friday, where prosecutors unsuccessfully opposed bail, saying the investigation was ongoing and there was evidence of further theft of $20 million to $25 million dating back to 2008.

They said more charges were likely.

The pair spent the money on racehorses, paying a horse stud service in New Zealand, and personal expenses and bills.

The court heard the invoices, averaging one a month, were just below the $50,000 threshold over which Whyte, who oversaw the cost centre, would need further authorisation to have them paid.

Whyte has been suspended from work.

He had stewardship of standards, governance, integrity and corporate assurances but now cannot enter the department's premises or contact any former or current employee as part of his bail conditions.

Whyte was ordered to pay a $500,000 personal undertaking and a $500,000 surety, while Anthonisz must pay a $75,000 personal undertaking plus a $100,000 surety.

Magistrate Leanne Atkins accepted Anthonisz, a father of five, had few assets, rented his Como house and was the sole career for his unwell wife while working full-time as a physiotherapist.

Whyte, on the other hand, has two properties in affluent Mosman Park, which have been frozen along with other assets while the investigation continues.

Prosecutors had argued both were a flight risk, saying some of the money had gone offshore.

Whyte's defence counsel argued his client was not at risk of absconding as he had strong ties to WA including three children.

The lawyer also complained media coverage so far had assumed guilt, saying "the presumption of innocence still applies".

Anthonisz's defence counsel said her client wasn't "the principal offender", noting he was the holder of the company bank accounts and the authorised signatory but "overall control of the actions appeared to be the co-accused".

Ms Atkins did not accept Anthonisz appeared to have played a lesser role.

"It takes two to tango and he's equal as far as I'm concerned," she said.

The case returns to court on December 13 and the pair are forbidden contact with each other.

Both have been ordered to surrender their passports.

At a press conference on Thursday, Corruption and Crime Commission chief executive Ray Warnes said if proven, "this may be the most serious case of public sector corruption in Australia, indeed certainly Western Australia".

Australian Associated Press