The Queensland Court of Appeal has refused police leave to appeal a decision that found former Ipswich City Council Mayor Andrew Antoniolli innocent of multiple criminal fraud charges.
The court in Brisbane yesterday refused an appeal by the Commissioner of Police against a decision by an Ipswich District Court judge in December 2020 to overturn findings of guilt against Antoniolli by a magistrate and substitute findings of innocence on all of the 12 counts.
Antoniolli, a long-time former Ipswich councillor and police officer, was found guilty by Ipswich Magistrate Anthony Gett in August 2019 of 12 counts of fraud committed while a councillor over a 12-month period and sentenced to six months’ jail. Mr Gett also sentenced Antoniolli to a three-month jail term for one count of attempted fraud while he was Ipswich’s mayor.
Antoniolli successfully appealed the decision via an appeal under Section 222 of the Justices Act 1886, with District Court Judge Dennis Lynch acquitting him of all charges because the presiding magistrate had erred by ignoring that Antoniolli had done nothing wrong in bidding on charity auctions or supporting payments from an Ipswich Council community fund.
The Police Commissioner subsequently applied to the Court of Appeal for leave to challenge Judge Lynch’s ruling.
The court, comprising Chief Justice Catherine Holmes and Justices John Bond and Peter Flanagan, in a majority decision refused the Commissioner leave on the basis that she could not identify an arguable basis for overturning the District Court judge’s findings.
Chief Justice Holmes, in her dissenting decision, said she would have granted the Commissioner of Police leave to appeal, but then have dismissed the appeal.
In summarising the decisions being appealed, Chief Justice Holmes said: “(Antoniolli was a) councillor of the Ipswich City Council … (and) had on 11 occasions bid at charity auctions for various items and on ten of those occasions had authorised payment for them by way of a donation from the Council’s community donations fund to the community organisation which held the auction; on the remaining occasion, no payment was made.
“On another two occasions, (he) had authorised payment of donations in circumstances where other councillors had bid at auction.
“In summary, the magistrate found that (he) knew the Council’s policy on donations did not permit the use of the Council’s community donations fund where an individual was to obtain a material or personal benefit; that he applied Council funds to his own use by authorising payment from the community donations fund to expunge the debt he (or others) incurred by bidding at the auctions and to obtain the right to the property the subject of the bid; and that he acted dishonestly by the standards of ordinary people in doing so.
“Accordingly, he convicted (Antoniolli) of fraud and attempted fraud.
“The District Court judge (Dennis Lynch), however, rehearing the matter by way of appeal, concluded that the use of the Council’s community donations fund to pay for charity auction items was neither outside nor prohibited by Council policy; that the evidence ‘overwhelmingly suggest[ed]’ that the respondent believed that the practice was within Council policy, provided he did not benefit personally; that the respondent had not applied the Council funds to his own use, but rather to the Council’s, for the purpose of genuine donations; and that dishonesty was not proved.
“His Honour allowed the appeal and set the convictions aside.”
The Police Commissioner appealed on five grounds, all in relation to decisions or alleged errors by the presiding judge.
Justice Bond, in his written decision, said: “In my view, the application for leave to appeal should be refused because the (Police Commissioner) failed to establish a reasonable argument that this Court should overturn the District Court judge’s finding that (Antoniolli) believed the practice of purchasing items at charity auctions was within the Council donations policy, as long as he did
not benefit personally.
“Unless the (Police Commissioner) could overturn that finding, dishonesty could never be established, and any appeal was bound to fail.”
Justice Flanagan concurred, saying: “I agree that leave to appeal should be refused for the reasons given by (Justice) Bond.”
Read the decision.