Craig Thomson trial: fraud and theft the wrong charges, says defence

The wording of charges could determine whether former federal MP Craig Thomson is found guilty of using union funds to pay for personal expenses, including sexual services.

Defence barrister Greg James, QC, told Melbourne Magistrates Court Mr Thomson did not obtain any property or financial advantage by deception during the period he was national secretary of the Health Services Union, from 2002 to 2007.

In delivering his closing submission on Wednesday, Mr James did not deny the transactions Mr Thomson is accused of making took place, but also did not openly confirm his client had used union funds for personal expenses.

Instead he said Mr Thomson did not deceive lending institutions because he had only ever used HSU credit cards and a Flight Centre account that he was authorised to use.

‘‘The service providers couldn’t care less about his internal relationships with the HSU, all they care about is whether the bank or Diners Club would honour the transaction. And if they got paid, and they [were],’’ Mr James told the court.

But Mr James admitted Mr Thomson might have mistakenly used a union-issued credit card to buy cigarettes and firewood for his then wife, and said that the former MP denied allegations against him in interviews he did with media to save himself personal and political embarrassment.

After the defence’s submission, magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg heard argument from both sides over whether it was the card providers or the HSU that had allegedly been defrauded.

The court heard charge sheets said Mr Thomson was accused of defrauding the Commonwealth Bank and Diners Club, but the prosecution maintains the HSU was the victim, as it was the union’s money that was illegally spent.

Mr Rozencwajg will now begin deliberations, and has asked the parties to be on standby for Friday should he have any questions arising from the closing submissions.

Mr Thomson is accused of using HSU credit cards and a Flight Centre account to accrue more than $28,000 in personal expenses, including sexual services, adult films in hotel rooms and flights for his then wife, Christa, during his term as national secretary. He is also accused of withdrawing cash from union accounts for himself.

The prosecution alleges he continued using HSU funds for personal expenses even after he left the union to become the Labor member for the NSW seat of Dobell. He lost the seat in last year’s election standing as an independent.

Mr Thomson, 49, has pleaded not guilty to more than 140 charges of fraud and theft.

Mr James said Mr Thomson’s conduct could make him guilty in a civil case or Fair Work Australia hearing, or had the prosecution applied more simply-worded criminal charges, such as failing to account for his spending.

But he said his client was not guilty of the charges against him, including obtaining financial advantage by deception, because he ‘‘made no false representation to Diners Club or Flight Centre as a person entitled to use the card’’.

What the money was used for did not matter so long as purchases were legal, Mr James said.

Prosecutor Lesley Taylor, SC, closed her submission by telling the court Mr Thomson had incriminated himself by lying about his conduct in media interviews.

But Mr James said those interviews were done at a time his client was trying to save his marriage, parliamentary career and public image, and that Mr Thomson could not have known the transcripts would be used against him years later as evidence in a criminal trial.

Mr James said the prosecution could not prove Mr Thomson deliberately defrauded anyone when he bought cigarettes for his then wife with a union-issued credit card, because he could have mistakenly used the wrong card for personal items when he was entitled to use the card for petrol for his car.

The prosecution could also not prove Mr Thomson deliberately masked his personal purchases, Mr James said, because he ‘‘didn’t proclaim the nature of the activities’’.

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