Reporter denies Plutus exposure 'threats'

·3-min read

A veteran Sydney journalist played the part of interested reporter in an explosive story that he failed to adequately pursue in order to blackmail alleged major tax fraudsters, a jury has heard.

On the second day in the witness box, Stephen Barrett was taken to key meetings he had with property developer Daniel Hausman, who became his primary source for the story and inside man to the alleged tax rort - Daniel Rostankovski.

The 63-year-old has pleaded not guilty to working in concert with the two men to blackmail three people allegedly behind the $105 million Plutus Payroll tax scandal.

The Plutus Payroll tax scheme allegedly skimmed money such as GST and superannuation owed to the ATO through second-tier companies headed by straw or shadow directors, the jury has earlier been told.

Barrett was picked up on recorded tape in a February 2017 meeting at a law firm that had been previously bugged by police, threatening the trio with exposure saying statements like "if I investigate," the Crown says.

"The whole point of me attending the meeting is to try and flush out the truth, shake out the tree," Barrett said on Tuesday in the NSW Supreme Court.

"You didn't shake the tree at all Mr Barrett," crown prosecutor Patricia McDonald SC said.

"I believe I did," Barrett responded.

The former 60 minutes reporter maintains he was duped by "the Daniels" and had no idea of their plans to extort $5 million out of the Plutus Payroll alleged leaders.

"Your role was to provide a threat ... and that's what you did," Ms McDonald said.

"Wrong, I'm a journalist chasing a story," Barrett said.

The alleged kingpin of the venture was Adam Cranston, son of then-deputy commissioner of the ATO Michael Cranston.

Barrett agrees he never squarely asked him if the allegation was true, but said he was laying out his information on the table allowing both parties to respond.

He also had another pressing matter to attend to straight after, he said.

"If you're investigating something and you strike gold ... you have Cranston in the room ... you could be late for the next meeting," Barrett said.

"Striking gold to me was getting the proof, the documents."

In a later secretly recorded phone call between Barrett and Hausman, the reporter is asked to "give the bastards another poke".

"I know what you probably need ... I think it's smart you and I get our heads together just so there's no hiccups, right," Barrett is recorded saying to Hausman.

In earlier evidence Barrett says he was doggedly pursuing a tax assessment letter or some kind of documentation as proof of what Hausman was saying, as he knew the case which touched on one of the Australian Taxation Office's highest serving officials was ripe for defamation.

He was questioned why then in recorded evidence he never mentioned a "tax assessment letter," and why he never followed up on the "mum and dad investors," that Hausman originally said were being ripped off in the illegal plot.

Barrett maintains he continued seeking proof and was also busy on other stories while this one sat on the shelf.

The trial continues.