WA public servant jailed over $27m theft

·3-min read

A disgraced West Australian public servant who stole more than $27 million from the state and spent lavishly on his obsession with racehorses has been jailed for at least 10 years.

Paul Whyte, 58, admitted masterminding what the WA Corruption and Crime Commission has described as Australia's biggest corruption by a public servant.

The former high-flyer appeared in the Supreme Court on Friday via videolink from custody, dressed in prison greens, after pleading guilty to 564 corruption and property laundering charges.

Justice Joseph McGrath sentenced him to 12 years in prison, describing his offending as a "gross breach of trust" which diverted funds from the most disadvantaged members of the community to fund an extravagant lifestyle.

Whyte will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

"Your offending was not a single act of stealing but a well-planned and executed theft from the community over an extraordinarily long period," Justice McGrath said.

"The amount that you stole is enormous."

A prolific gambler, Whyte used his influential senior roles in WA's public housing and communities departments to authorise payment of false invoices to shell companies which had bank accounts controlled by Whyte and another person.

Prosecutor Michael Cvetkoski said Whyte had engaged in "persistent, systematic and audacious corruption to obtain a significant benefit" over 11 years and six months before his arrest in 2019.

The total sum stolen from the state was more than $27.4 million and the personal benefit to Whyte exceeded $11 million.

"The state did not receive any services for the invoiced amounts," the prosecutor said.

Several other people have been charged in relation to the offending but Whyte has accepted responsibility for the entirety of the theft, which he used to purchase a luxury property and fund an attempt to build a "horse-racing empire".

Whyte held interests in at least 111 racehorses and spent more than $3 million on purchasing, breeding and maintaining them.

Defence counsel Michael Tudori likened his client to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: a distinguished public service veteran who had a gambling addiction, a need to "big-note himself" and a love of the notoriety that came with his racehorse involvement.

At the time of his arrest, Whyte had $3500 in his bank account. Days later, he attempted to take his own life after being granted bail.

"This man has expressed to me ... how sorry he is to the people of Western Australia and of course extreme sorrow to his family," Mr Tudori said.

"At the end of all of this, his family is left with nothing."

Whyte bowed his head as he heard of the impact on his wife and three children, who now live in a modest rental property following the forced sale of their home.

His teenage daughter had to endure the "absolute public shame" of his offending.

Mr Tudori said his client had shown genuine remorse and contrition, and had co-operated with authorities.

But prosecutors argued Whyte had not been "full and frank", and had sought to minimise the actions of his alleged co-offenders, to the extent that it would be impossible for him to be called as a witness in any future trials.

Justice McGrath noted Whyte had suffered from sexual abuse as a child and had battled depression throughout his life.

But he was not satisfied there was a causal link between Whyte's psychological difficulties and his "sophisticated" offending.

The court heard the state had recovered $5.1 million of the stolen proceeds but was unlikely to salvage the balance.

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