ICAC probes NSW Aboriginal land deals

Rebecca Gredley

A former assistant tax commissioner is at the centre of an investigation into a series of deals to sell off Aboriginal land in NSW's Hunter Valley claimed to be worth up to $30 million - including one allegedly signed by a dead person.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption on Tuesday began a three-week public inquiry into transactions involving Nicholas Petroulias and property owned by the Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council.

Mr Petroulias was jailed for two years in 2008 for corrupt conduct and unauthorised publication of commonwealth documents when he worked at the Australian Taxation Office.

In his opening address, counsel assisting Nicholas Chen SC said Mr Petroulias - who used at least three other aliases - had a "central role" in three transactions and one attempted deal between 2014 and 2016.

The first gave him - through his "$2 company" Gows Heat - the "right" to buy five lots of land owned by the council, Dr Chen said.

The agreement was signed by a "Jason Latervere", who was listed as a director of Gows Heat but was dead at the time.

"So the signature was obviously not his," Dr Chen told the inquiry.

"As it turned out, the person who executed the document... was Nick Petroulias."

About six months later, he sold the purported "right" - for which he paid nothing - and received about $1.1 million as a result. Mr Petroulias then tried to on-sell it to another buyer, without telling either what he'd done, Dr Chen said.

The inquiry will examine the actions of two Awabakal board members involved in executing the transactions, Richard Green and Debbie Dates, and Despina Bakis - the lawyer who drafted all four transactions.

Ms Bakis was the sole practitioner of Knightsbridge North Lawyers and, at the time, had been in an "on-again off-again" relationship with Mr Petroulias for 20 years, Dr Chen said.

He noted neither Mr Petroulias nor Ms Bakis were board members of the land council or indigenous.

Ms Bakis also had "no relevant experience" in the kind of work she was apparently tasked to undertake by the council, he said.