A high-profile spin doctor who once spruiked for Steve Vizard has been hired by gangland lawyer George Defteros to shield former Brimbank Mayor Natalie Suleyman and her father Hakki from the fallout over corruption allegations at the scandal-hit council.
Mike Smith, a former editor of The Age who now runs public relations firm Inside PR, confirmed to Crikey this morning he had been approached by Defteros after the Victorian Ombudsman delivered a scathing report into the council’s activities last week.
Smith said he had met with the Suleymans and was busy dispensing advice to curb the column inches allocated to the case. But nearly a week after the report landed the blizzard shows no sign of abating with revelations yesterday that Premier John Brumby will appoint an unnamed former top cop to investigate the possibility of criminal charges stemming from the scandal.
Smith said the classic “no news is good news” adage would be employed in the Suleyman case.
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“I’ve given them some media advice – mainly to stay out of the media”, Smith told Crikey.
“Sometimes the best PR is no PR”, he added.
If so, the Suleymans’ decision to hire colourful South Yarra identity Defteros may have been their first misstep.
ALP insiders say that if the Suleymans were serious about evading the spotlight, they had blundered in the appointment of the self-described “gung ho” lawyer, who gave an interview to ABC News last night defending the duo.
In 2004, Defteros was sensationally charged with conspiracy to murder at the height of the Melbourne gangland saga. The charges were later dropped.
Smith, whose former clients include Brian Quinn, Mexican fugitive Carlos Cabal, Japanese whalers and the not-guilty portion of the Wales-King family, said the main issues confronted by the Suleymans were legal.
The most pressing centres on Hakki Suleyman’s suspension on full-pay from his position as Planning Minister Justin Madden’s electorate officer. Defteros told the ABC Suleyman had done nothing wrong and should be reinstated. But he could struggle to mount a convincing case, with the Opposition baying for blood.
Natalie Suleyman may also struggle to evade the spotlight, after she was named in the Ombudsman’s report as a key figure in the misallocation of funds and as a source of phone bills totalling thousands of dollars.
Smith admitted the claims and counterclaims could drag on for months, as the 199-page tome is pored over by investigators.
“It’s not a good time to take a high profile. The case still has a long way to go,” he said.