Leonie Lamont August 18, 2012
Ross Seller (left) with Patrick McCarthy. Photo: Louise Kennerley
TWO high-profile targets of Project Wickenby have scored a major victory after the New South Wales Supreme Court found their right to a fair trial had been so compromised by authorities' handling of material against them that criminal charges should be permanently quashed.
The ruling raises questions about whether other Wickenby prosecutions have also been compromised.
Lawyer Ross Edward Seller and Patrick David McCarthy were charged in March this year over an alleged tax fraud, which involved a Scotch whisky operation, and their links to the Wickenby-targeted Swiss-based firm Strachans, run by Richard and Philip Egglishaw.
The pair, in a Wickenby operation code named Operation Polbeam, were compulsorily examined by the Australian Crime Commission in 2007 over their business dealings in 2001-02.
The men's appeal centred on material obtained during the crime commission hearings - transcripts of their examinations that were forwarded to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, and also the role of a key witness in the coming trial. The expert witness had been seconded from the Australian Taxation Office and had observed the men's crime commission examinations.
A ''very happy'' Mr Seller said he would ''let the judgment speak for itself [about his opinion of the Wickenby investigations]''.
''The relevant thing is if this is [happening] on other cases. I think it's an issue that flows.''
When asked about seeking compensation, he said: ''These things are being mooted at the moment, but I think it's early days yet. We have to see if there's any appeal.''
Justice Peter Garling yesterday found the ''conduct of the Crime Commission, in conjunction with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, has deprived them of the protection which the law ensured. Any trial would not be fair.''
He noted that charges were only stayed by courts in ''extreme'' circumstances, as there was a strong public interest for criminal allegations to be prosecuted.
But he said it would offend the ''administration of justice for the applicants to be confronted by prosecution authorities who have had access to material ordinarily caught by the privilege against self-incrimination, but which has been compulsorily obtained''.