UPDATE: Following this exclusive VEXNEWS story, the LNP hierarchy have announced that Hajnal Ban’s endorsement has been removed and that a new preselection will be held.
A popular and high-flying LNP candidate for the federal marginal Queensland seat of Wright Logan councillor Hajnal Ban has been accused of misusing the funds of a vulnerable elderly man in a nursing home.
Political insiders told VEXNEWS that it was considered more likely than not that Hajnal Ban would win the seat. Ban has been a long-time favourite of VEXNEWS readers after her emergence as a breath of fresh air in Queensland politics.
Ominously though, the Adult Guardian in Queensland recently suspended Banâ€™s capacity to act under a power of attorney granted by a former council colleague and close personal friend, who is currently suffering from medical problems including â€œconfusionâ€ and is living in an aged care facility.
The row involving $2.25 million dollars has been kept secret until now. Once again, VEXNEWS is first with the worst.
Sources familiar with the case have told VEXNEWS that Hajnal Ban will be fighting for her political life once the details of the matter come to public attention.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
A recent decision of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal â€“ where the parties are not named – laid bare a very messy situation the political candidate where it appears that Ban:
â– Transferred as much as $2.25 million from the sale of the man’s house to a joint bank account between Ban and the man that is controlled by her;
â– Failed to keep proper books and records of â€œall dealings and transactionsâ€ made under the power of attorney in breach of legal requirements;
â– Transferred large sums of money from the joint bank account to herself;
â– Continued to withdraw funds from the joint account after her power of attorney was suspended by Queensland regulators;
â– Faces at least one angry adult son of the man who appeared at the hearing;
â– Will most likely be removed from managing the man’s affairs if the court appoints an administrator over his finances and;
â– Could face potentially serious legal and political difficulties as a result of the above.
Ban was given a power of attorney to make decisions for â€œfinancial and personal/health mattersâ€ for a former council colleague and close personal friend.
The Courier Mail reportedÂ on Saturday that the man â€œgave her awayâ€ at her recent wedding to another Logan councillor Sean Black, an ex ALP activist adversely named in the Sherpherdson inquiry into electoral fraud [pdf] who has recently become an LNP activist. LNP notables including Senator Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell and pro-Chinese billionaire Clive Palmer attending the politically prominent power-couple’s wedding.
The newspaper reported that the man paid for her $40,000 leg-lengthening surgery and then spent nine months with her in the Ukraine, suggesting to some they were once very close friends indeed. She has told the press she visits the man every day in his nursing home. She is thirty-two years old and he is sixty-five years old.
TRANSACTIONS WITHOUT EXPLANATIONS
The QCAT decision â€“ which made orders that she produce records explaining the transactions in the joint bank account â€“ listed â€œsome of the transactionsâ€ in the account funded by the proceeds of the sale of the man’s house.
Some of the transactions recorded on the joint account were:
a) deposit of $xxx on 28 July 2009;
b) deposit of $xxx on 4 August 2009;
c) withdrawal of $xxx on 4 August 2009;
d) internet transfer of $xxx to CD on 17 August 2009;
e) internet transfer of $xxx to CD on 17 August 2009;
f) deposit of $xxx on 18 September 2009;
g) internet transfer of $xxx for stamp duty on 24 September 2009;
h) internet transfer of $xxx to CD on 28 October 2009;
i) deposit of $xxx on 2 November 2009;
j) withdrawal of $xxx on 3 November 2009;
k) internet transfer of $xxx for loan agreement on 4 November 2009;
l) withdrawal of $xxx on 9 November 2009;
m) withdrawal of $xxx on 24 December 2009;
n) withdrawal of $xxx on 8 January 2010;
o) withdrawal of $xxx on 27 January 2010;
p) internet transfer of $xxx on 30 March 2010;
q) internet transfer of $xxx on 10 May 2010.
There was nothing in QCATâ€™s decision itself that suggested any dishonest or illegal in these transactions although transfers to herself and unexplained withdrawals will create â€“ at the very least â€“ a very awkward political and legal situation for Councillor Ban where she will need to explain her actions in detail. She was not able to do so before the Tribunal or inquiring regulators, indeed even broad explanations have seemed inconsistent according to the Tribunal.
This part of the QCAT decision highlights the inconsistencies in her description of what has gone on in this messy saga:
The attorney declined to provide an undertaking (to stop dealing with funds) to the Tribunal on the grounds that it was unreasonable to do so as she was a co-owner of the funds once they had been placed into the joint account.
No evidence had been provided to substantiate that contention which was inconsistent with a submission made on behalf of CD by her counsel earlier in the hearing that the proceeds of sale had been placed into the joint account in order to prevent ABâ€™s estranged family from accessing those funds.
The Public Trustee contended that the earlier submission gave rise to an inference that the funds were in fact being held on trust by the attorney for AB in the joint account and were not her property beneficially.
A Queensland government website explains [pdf]Â that people granted a power of attorney owe a strict fiduciary duty to those granting them that authority:
What are the obligations of an attorney?
The attorney has an obligation to keep the donor’s property separate to theirs and should keep a written record of all dealings with the donor’s affairs. The attorney must act honestly and keep confidentiality.
An attorney takes on serious responsibilities. If they do not observe their responsibilities they may be removed or even convicted of an offence or required to pay compensation.
Anyone who suspects that the power of attorney is not being used properly can inform the Adult Guardian. The Adult Guardian has the power to protect the donor’s interests when the donor is unable to do so. They can require the attorney to provide accounts and details about any decisions that have been made.
An application can also be made to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal where an attorney is acting improperly. An attorney who does not protect the donor’s interests adequately can be removed.
The Tribunalâ€™s orders that Hajnal Ban provide sworn information about the application of the funds will soon shed more light on the matter and â€“ if the answers are not satisfactory â€“ could land her in hot water with regulators and with the LNP itself that has endorsed her to represent them in their must-win Queensland federal seat of Wright.
The QCAT decision is available here.
UPDATE 2PM MONDAY: The ABC is now reporting this VEXNEWS exclusive.
UPDATE 9PM MONDAY: VEXNEWS sources say the LNP has removed Hajnal Ban’s party endorsement for Wright. She will be permitted to recontest, presumably after she’s demonstrated a resolution to her difficulties with Queensland regulators over her management of the man’s $2.25 million nest-egg. Based on the QCAT decision, her less than convincing radio interviews today and the rumours circling the LNP, that would seem like a real challenge for the very determined woman. The rising tide of optimism in the Coalition could certainly attract a big field for the new preselection.
UPDATE TUESDAY: Nine News in Brisbane reported the controversy last night, click here to see.
UPDATE TUESDAY: The Queensland Times has done well to find out more background on this case. In their article today they explain aHajnal Ban’s friend is blaming this matter on a “political witch-hunt”.
Based on the admissions of a friend it appears that some of these funds have been used to pay for construction at her family home. Absent any agreement to the contrary, it would seem if the man’s funds were used to make additions to Ms Ban’s home they would become part of her property, potentially substantially increasing its value. The Queensland Times reports:
â€œShe made those withdrawals to help build a granny flat for her friend because she did not want (him) to live in a nursing home.
â€œShe wanted (him) to live with her and her husband,â€ the source said.
UPDATE TUESDAY: Hajnal Ban’s husband Sean Black, himself a former ALP member who changed sides after being won over by his now wife, has come out swinging against the LNP’s decision to disendorse her. He was highly critical of the party hierarchy when he spoke with the Courier Mail:
“It was only an hour ago that Hajnal found out about what happened,” Mr Black said. “Our family is devastated by this news. The decision is pre-emptive of the matters before a tribunal and we still have loyalty and faith in democracy, the party and in the tenets of justice. We’re not going to let it beat us.”
Mr Black, a former real estate agent, is a “passionate advocate for his community,” accused by council bureaucrats of bullying, he is banned from meeting with council staff and is not allowed in the council building without security staff as he explains here.
LNP insiders told VEXNEWS that the decision to remove the preselection was because she failed in her duty to disclose the suspension and resulting QCAT process to the party hierarchy. She’ll be allowed to contest the preselection, on the understanding that she has resolved her legal issues, insiders tell VEXNEWS. One wasn’t optimistic for her, one explaining:
“She can blame the press on politics but she’s can’t really blame the Office of the Adult Guardian, whose job it is to protect vulnerable and sick elderly people, for making decisions motivated by politics. She has a duty to keep the books in order and appears not to have done so. She also continued to spend (the man’s) money even after she was suspended. Even if everything else is above board, and spending his money on her property doesn’t sound good, these mistakes will probably be enough to persuade her not to run and if she does will make it a lot easier for less controversial opponents.”
She was opposed in the first preselection by Gold Coast City Councillor Bob La Castra, Lockyer Valley Councillor Dave Neuendorf, former federal Liberal member for Blair Cameron Thompson, aircraft engineer Scott White and English-Chinese translator Don Graham. Also Peter Dutton was thought to be interested in the seat but was scared off by local party members who said they wanted one of their own.
UPDATE TUESDAY: Hajnal Ban’s interview on 4BC yesterday available here explaining her situation was a factor in her disendorsement, party insiders tell VEXNEWS. It did not suggest she was going to be able manage being a candidate while being embroiled in this legal row very easily.
UPDATE TUESDAY LUNCH-TIME: Hajnal Ban’s husband Sean Black says she is reassessing her future in politics after the bitter disappointment of being disendorsed. Some believe this means she may not nominate for the new preselection which will be held later this month. The newlywed lovingly and loyally compared his wife with “Sarah Palin, Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton,â€™â€™ arguing that “politics is very tough for any woman” because “the things that people throw at you are astonishing.” That is certainly true, we suspect, regardless of gender.
Black has also launched into the LNP hierarchy saying they acted prematurely and unfairly by disendorsing Ban. He insists that she’ll stay loyal to the LNP regardless of the new preselection result.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY JUNE 9: The Australian reports that Hajnal Ban has been warned by LNP powerbrokers not to recontest her stripped preselection for Wright. It reveals that her preselection was removed on the orders of the highly regarded Liberal party federal director Brian Loughnane. Â Our sources say Party President Bruce McIver needed little encouragement after hearing a disastrous radio interview where she struggled to explain her actions.
The Australian also confirms our earlier report that Cameron Thompson, the former MP for Blair, is going to run. He will probably get the nod and it is even expected by one party insider speaking on condition of anonymity, at this stage, that Thompson could be unopposed. Â At the moment Councillor Ban is not ruling out contesting the preselection but if she does she is likely to have much less support than was previously the case.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY: Another story in The Australian today by Matthew Franklin reports federal Leader Tony Abbott’s “immense” frustration over the LNP’s performance “savaging the party over poor selection of candidates and lack of focus in the lead-up to the federal election.” It even claims that “Abbott had never been comfortable with the endorsement of Ms Ban, who came to prominence after writing about having radical surgery in Russia to have her legs lengthened by 8cm.” He sounded more enthusiastic about Councillor Ban when he launched her campaign earlier this year so there might be some re-writing of history going on there.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY: While telling the national press she’s still very much contemplating running in the new Wright preselection, Hajnal Ban’s husband Sean Black is talking up a storm to local scribes, this time offering that she might avoid politics for the time being to “settle down” and have a baby:
Cr Black said settling down and having a family was now “a most serious consideration.Â I donâ€™t think anyone would want to put their family through this type of nonsense,â€™â€™ he said. Â Cr Black said he was not 100 percent sure why his wife was disendorsed by the LNP.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY 1.30pm: The prospect of LNP preselection in a new seat where you’ve got a 4% notional advantage over Labor is attracting quite a bit of interest despite a desire by some in the LNP hierarchy to give the spot to “safe pair of hands” Cameron Thompson, the former MP for Blair. Kennedy Room regular Joe Kelly at The Australian exclusively reveals that the larger than life Scott Driscoll, the self-styled ruler of a retail association to rival the Australian Retailers Association, is thinking of chancing his arm:
“If I take the decision to throw my hat in the ring I don’t do things by halves,” Driscoll said [showing a commitment to mixing metaphors that is always needed in our federal Parliament]
UPDATE THURSDAY: There’s been lots of speculation within the Logan council and Wright seat about the circumstances of the sale of the property of the man who granted Hajnal Ban a power of attorney. The Courier-Mail has reported on one aspect of it this morning, suggesting the property might have been sold too cheaply. It was not just a house, locals have told VEXNEWS, but a major development site. The newspaper reported that it was initially listed for $5.7 million even though it was actually sold for $2.25 million.
Locals have speculated that Ban or her former real estate agent husband has ties with the developer who bought the site or some arrangement with them, an accusation that sounded very unlikely to us. However, today’s story will certainly add to that speculation.
Black, Ban’s spokesman it seems, declared with all subtlety we once associated with the Queensland National Party:
“The man was the full quid up until October last year so he was able to sell his own property,” Cr Black said.
The complicating part for Ban – as she still contemplates whether to persist with the preselection candidacy – is that she signed off on all the paperwork, so speculation that she had a conflict of interest in some respect, is serious:
QCAT documents reveal the man signed a contract while in hospital and Cr Ban completed the sale using her power of attorney on October 28 last year â€“ two weeks after he was readmitted to hospital. The sale of the property was settled on October 30 and the man was discharged on November 4 to a care facility.
Ban’s position, which we suspect is more likely to be true than the wild speculation doing the rounds, is that she merely signed off on paperwork that the property owner had set in train many months earlier. Certainly, for her sake, we hope that’s right.
Meanwhile, local supporters of Hajnal Ban are telling the press that she still has the numbers to hang on to her preselection despite the apparent disapproval of party federal director Brian Loughnane and federal leader Tony Abbott.
If she could bounce back from all this, that would be quite the comeback, but with the new preselection set for June 27th – and the messy legal proceedings in which she is involved unlikely to be resolved by then – that does look like a stretch.
UPDATE THURSDAY: Independent Liberal federal MP Michael Johnson has weighed into the Hajnal ban row on Twitter:
Spoke to Hajnal Ban this morning, who LNP disendorsed from Wright – she confirms LNP officials bullied her to resign…Sound familiar?
UPDATE FRIDAY: We’d anticipated concluding the updates of this story by now but it seems it’s just getting bigger.
The Age’s Michelle Grattan reported on the story – strangely enough – today and declared that Ban has no chance of being selected a second time. And after you’ve read what’s next, you’ll start to see why.
The Courier Mail has accessed the court file of the Hajnal Ban case at QCAT and what they found certainly doesn’t look good for the former LNP candidate.
Click here to read their grim tale.
We should probably belatedly note that just because regulators are making claims doesn’t make them true. They can often be wrong.
But the one thing we suspect they’re not wrong about is that the old man in Hajnal Ban’s care had $2.25 million. It appears Councillor ban withdrew $1.9 million of it, spending some – perhaps most of it – on the man and very large amounts – totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars regulators claim – on items it appears were not for the benefit of the man.
Some of the money also went to her husband Sean Black. He had some big expenses recently.
We wrote on Sunday that we thought this could get very ugly and it certainly does seem that way.
It wasn’t as if both of them were struggling for a quid to begin with. One thing people outside Queensland might not realise is that many local councillors receive full-time salaries, in Logan’s case each councillor is paid some $94,640 per annum.
We’ve reported on many candidates and knocked off public officials as high ranking as state Treasurers. Usually they deserve it. Mostly we have a chuckle about their folly and air-punch in amused celebration about the pure joy that is VEXNEWS. This time, there’s no joy in it at all.
Articulate, confident, personable. Hajnal Ban could have been a contender. Our research found she was courageous and principled too, willing to stand up for a guy being assailed for remarking how lovely looking Liberal ladies were as a bit of fun. We wrote about her back in 2006 when she first emerged as one to watch.
Her loss is ours too. We broke the story but it also breaks our heart.
We end as we began: This is a Wright mess.