Liberal powerbroker Arthur Sinodinos’s lawyer has had a heated exchange with a witness at a hearing of the NSW corruption watchdog.
Tony Bannon SC sparred with Rod De Aboitiz after the Australian Water Holdings (AWH) investor was recalled to give further evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Mr De Aboitiz referred to Senator Sinodinos as a “former assistant treasurer” with the comment prompting Mr Bannon to brand the witness a “smart arse” in a muttered aside picked up by microphones.
Mr Bannon was forced to apologise as ICAC commissioner Megan Latham warned proceedings were “descending into the sandbox”.
Mr De Aboitiz has previously told the ICAC he warned former AWH chairman Senator Sinodinos the company was at risk of insolvency.
The watchdog is examining claims AWH corruptly billed Sydney Water for lavish salaries, limousine rides and Liberal party donations.
Senator Sinodinos has stood aside from his assistant treasury portfolio pending the investigation’s outcome.
Mr De Aboitiz has testified he raised a number of concerns with then AWH CEO Nick Di Girolamo as a courtesy before a 2010 meeting with Senator Sinodinos.
They included that the company had earmarked $20,000 for the Liberal Party at a time when it was also “hitting me up” for a $250,000 personal loan.
Mr De Aboitiz had expected Mr Di Girolamo to pass these concerns onto the chairman, Senator Sinodinos.
But when he met with Senator Sinodinos, Mr De Aboitiz said on Wednesday that he wanted to talk about the big picture.
“I did not mention specific figures on the premise that he would have been so briefed about the content of the meeting by the CEO,” Mr De Aboitiz said.
Senator Sinodinos says any political donations paid out by AWH were not raised at board level.
“In relation to political donations by Australian Water, these were handled by the management of the organisation at their discretion,” he told the Senate last year.
“I do not recollect donations to political parties being discussed at the board level.”
ICAC commissioner Ms Latham said on Wednesday that even if it were proven that Senator Sinodinos had breached the Corporations Act, she had “some difficulty” seeing how that could translate to a corruption finding.
But counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson said the inquiry was ongoing and Senator Sinodinos could still find himself the subject of an adverse finding.
“I’ve read section eight of the (ICAC) act. It seems to be capable of being applied in respect of Mr Bannon’s client, depending on the facts that emerge,” Mr Watson said.
“Yes,” Ms Latham replied.
The inquiry continues on Thursday, with former NSW premier Kristina Keneally due on the stand.