After receiving deserved public criticism for its botched handling of the Vizard ‘insider trading’ matter, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has done its best to ensure that the media hasn’t followed up on the Wallace Cameron fiasco.

Wallace Cameron was the former CEO, managing director and major shareholder of Gribbles. Cameron was charged by ASIC in 2006 with a litany of corporate offences, ranging from failing to disclose a substantial shareholding, misleading the Gribbles board and its bankers and most seriously, giving false or misleading answers under oath. The 35 charges gave rise to penalties upwards of 14 years prison and fines of $294,000.

After charging Cameron, ASIC handed carriage of the prosecution to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. This was the same procedure which was followed in the Vizard case. Nothing was publicly said of the Cameron matter after he was charged, with a committal hearing originally scheduled for August 2008. All of a sudden, on Friday 6 June 2008, ASIC released a media statement noting that Cameron had pleaded guilty to only seven charges and escaped with a mere $16,000 fine. Despite being charged with several offences akin to perjury, Cameron did not receive a custodial sentence.

Crikey questioned the Commonwealth DPP (which is now being run by Chris Craigie SC, a former public defender) as to how Cameron was able to escape with what appeared to be a very mild slap on the wrist. After 24 hours and numerous phone calls, the DPP eventually replied that:

The Offences pleaded to covered the vast majority of the criminality alleged in the 35 charges. The extent of the sentence is a matter for the court.

Crikey, and the Australian taxpayers who fund the DPP, would well be aware that sentencing is a matter for our courts. However, in virtually all instances, when the parties agree to a guilty plea, the DPP will recommend to the court a sentence.

Crikey again questioned the DPP with a list of more specific questions, including an enquiry as to why the DPP didn’t seek jail time for the offences, what penalty the DPP did recommend the Magistrate impose and whether the DPP were happy with the eventual result. Our taxpayer funded Direct of Public Prosecutions replied with:

The plea to the charges was accepted because it covered the vast majority of the criminality alleged in the 35 charges. As stated the extent of the sentence is a matter for the court and we have no other comment.

Not only did the DPP not answer Crikey’s questions – it completely ignored them.

The DPP’s silence on the matter contradicts its public statements after the Vizard settlement. After Vizard, then DPP, Damian Bugg, issued a three-page press release explaining its actions over the funnyman. While the allegations against Cameron were never proven, they appear to be far more serious than those leveled against Vizard – in particular, the charges relating to hindering an ASIC investigation.

The DPP’s unwillingness to answer basic questions which go directly to its competence as a publicly-funded legal enforcement arm is highly disturbing. The public has a right to know why the DPP, for the second time in as many years, has allowed a high-profile and very wealthy director to escape with a tickle despite being charged with a collection of serious crimes after an investigation which would have cost upwards of several hundred thousand dollars.

The DPP’s apparent disrespect to the public interest questions casts significant doubt on its ability to prosecute white collar crime.