Home / Australia / The alarms of political influence of the Catholic leader.

The alarms of political influence of the Catholic leader.



However, a potential financial scandal looms within the bishop's empire. Investigators appointed by the government of Ernst & Young are investigating the heavy payments to nuns made by a Catholic school in Sydney, as well as a mysterious multi-million dollar loan granted to the school by the Maronite Sisters.

Sources associated with St. Maroun College in Dulwich Hill have told the Herald They had raised concerns about financial irregularities that go back years.

They include accusations of cash payments made by the school to senior church figures, transfers of funds to Lebanon and hundreds of thousands of dollars in international student fees that were paid in cash but not accounted for properly.

A spokeswoman for St. Maroun's said that "the accounts of the university are independently audited every year and have always issued an unqualified opinion" and that the school was fully cooperating with the current audit.

In the first part of a Herald In the research on the Maronite church, its leader, Bishop Tarabay, emerges as a political player interested in exercising influence and promoting the interests of wealthy figures within his Lebanese Maronite community.

Local politicians have spoken of their surprise when they went to lunch in the imposing residence of Strathfield of the bishop, only to discover that their host had placed them next to the promoters of properties interested in discussing projects.

"Tarabay is interested in playing the matchmaker," said a former councilman who had attended the lunches.

"You would go to a church event and Tarabay would lobby you on behalf of the developers," said another. "He has hungry and very aggressive power."

Bishop Tarabay conducts a procession at the Good Friday Mass of the Church of Our Lady of Lebanon, Harris Park, in 2014.

Bishop Tarabay conducts a procession at the Good Friday Mass of the Church of Our Lady of Lebanon, Harris Park, in 2014. Credit:Ben Rushton

Bishop Tarabay said he did not accept characterizations of himself as a lobbyist or conduit for real estate developers.

As for the lunches, he said: "In Australian society it is not uncommon for politicians and entrepreneurs to attend functions, and there is no reason why Australians of Lebanese heritage should be treated differently."

A former Canterbury councilor recalled that the bishop attended a council meeting several years ago and was sitting near Charlie Demian, a real estate developer who is now involved in a corruption investigation that is examining the agreements made in the council itself.

The bishop loves the people who splash the money.

Parishioner

When the Herald They asked separately Mr. Demian and the bishop why they attended a council meeting together, the two responded with different memories of the topics to be discussed.

Mr. Demian, who had owned a plot of land next to the church in Punchbowl, recalled that Bishop Tarabay attended a discussion on the rezoning of the future site of a nursing home.

However, the bishop recalled attending because a "serious plague of rodents" on Mr. Demian's property was troubling a Maronite school next door.

Later, Mr. Demian acted on the board of a Maronite senior care project when his company won a $ 7 million contract to help build it.

The owner and developer of the newspaper Anwar Harb, a business partner of former parliamentarian Eddie Obeid in disgrace, confirmed that he had led a delegation of prominent Maronite businessmen to Lebanon, where they lobbied with the patriarch of the church to ensure the rise of the Bishop Tarabay to the first position.

Mr. Harb, a close adviser to the bishop, ruled out talking about any preference for the rich.

"I'm telling you, he has no preference between a poor person and a rich person. He loves everyone, he is a man of God. "

Bishop Tarabay with Pope Francis, who appointed him head of the Maronite Catholic Church of Australia in 2013.

Bishop Tarabay with Pope Francis, who appointed him head of the Maronite Catholic Church of Australia in 2013. Credit:Facebook

George Ghossayn, the demolition and excavation mogul who gave Obeid a character reference in his sentence, initially denied having donated his black Mercedes S500 to the bishop. He later admitted that the bishop had indeed inherited his Mercedes after having ascended to Bentley.

The bishop took first place in the award ceremony when Sarkis Nassif was named by the developers as property owner of the year in 2017. The man in the cloth also appeared in a celebration video for Joe Khattar of Dyldam when he won that gong on last year.

Bishop Tarabay was co-founder of Dyldam's main charity vehicle, the GNK Foundation, which now runs the risk of losing its registration because it does not present financial records to the charity's control agency.

But while he is still on the list as a "lifelong patron" on the website, the bishop said he no longer played any role in the charity.

"Stay out of politics"

Born in 1967 in the village of Tannourine, in northern Lebanon, Bishop Tarabay chose the life of a monk, joining the Lebanese Maronite Order.

After serving as director of St Charbel in Dulwich Hill, he received a dispensation to leave the order and become a bishop. He won the position on a most favored candidate after some international lobbying efforts by people like Mr. Harb and Mr. Khattar of Dyldam.

"It was like an air train," said a former politician about the convoys of supporters making the trip to Beirut. "There is a very tangled web of relationships between real estate developers, political agents and agitators and the church."

Bishop Tarabay said he had no "direct knowledge" of who visited Lebanon to press him and that he had not asked anyone to do so.

But it certainly has connections in high places. Cardinal George Pell wrote the prologue to his book on bioethics. The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, recently dined at the bishop's house. Tony Abbott, as prime minister, knelt before him to kiss a crucifix offered.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who described him as

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who described him as "generous and good-hearted". Credit:Facebook

And the current Prime Minister Scott Morrison accompanied him to Lebanon to celebrate his ordination, to meet with his parents and to praise in Parliament the sacrifice of "this generous and kind-hearted Bishop of Sydney".

But since the retirement of two Maronite parliamentarians and the departure of the now imprisoned Eddie Obeid, Bishop Tarabay (who appears regularly in Obeid's diaries) has been waving to obtain a new Maronite representation at all levels of government.

"He is very political, that is his fixation, and he is obsessed with putting his people in positions of power," said a current state member.

The political agents of both sides have spoken of the bishop who demands to be treated deferentially, seeing himself as a maker of kings.

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"We definitely had to pay tribute to him," said a former Labor heavyweight. "Literally it was like kissing the ring. It was like going to see the Godfather. "

The bishop's recent protege was Gisele Doumet, who traveled to Lebanon in 2016 with prominent Labor figures, including the opposition leader of New South Wales, Luke Foley. The tour was organized by Bishop Tarabay, the Herald has been said

The bishop has promoted Ms. Doumet to several seats, most recently Parramatta, according to several sources. Mr. Foley, when he opposed his enthusiastic support of Doumet, replied that she had the backing of the bishop.

"The Australian Maronite bishop has made it clear to the leading figures that he supports Gisele Doumet," Foley told News Corp in May.

But it was eventually rejected by the central office, despite the suggestion that tens of thousands of Maronite votes would be lost if the bishop's candidate was not pre-selected.

Ms. Doumet said that she was not competing for a preselection in any position and that she was not aware of any previous efforts by the bishop to promote it.

A parishioner, who was upset by the bishop's attempt to have the Labor Party consider Mrs. Doumet for Parramatta, said he recently told the bishop: "Your role is to feed the flock, stay out of politics."

Bishop Tarabay rejected suggestions that he had been too political.

"The only Maronite vow that I have the ability to direct is mine. However, as an Australian and as a community leader, I consider it appropriate to make representations to political leaders on behalf of the community I lead on matters of social importance, "he said.

"I have encouraged several political candidates from my community who aspire to serve in political life."

Meanwhile, Liberal Party figures are helping the bishop with his dreams of an affordable housing project. The controversial former Bankstown councilor, Jim Daniel, found guilty of a smear campaign against a Labor candidate involving pedophilia allegations, is one of the directors of the church's Kadishat housing company.

Also on the board are the current Canterbury-Bankstown councilors, George Zakhia and Charbel Ishac.

When asked about his appointments, the bishop simply said: "They offered their services."

Canterbury-Bankstown Councilor George Zakhia, who sits on the board of directors of a Maronite affordable housing project, attends Strathfield's home of Bishop Tarabay.

Canterbury-Bankstown Councilor George Zakhia, who sits on the board of directors of a Maronite affordable housing project, attends Strathfield's home of Bishop Tarabay. Credit:Wolter Peeters

Ambitions of aged care

Bishop Tarabay has named the care of the elderly as one of the main priorities for his church. However, two church projects, which have received $ 10 million in federal government construction grants, have brought together a number of names heard in recent hearings of the Independent Commission against Corruption.

ICAC's current investigation, Operation Dasha, has heard that Mr. Demian, the real estate developer, was receiving help from Wagga Wagga's former parliamentarian Daryl Maguire, who promised to link him to a "mega-rich" Chinese financier.

The former state liberal deputy for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, left, and Sydney developer Charlie Demian outside the Independent Commission against Corruption.

The former state liberal deputy for Wagga Wagga Daryl Maguire, left, and Sydney developer Charlie Demian outside the Independent Commission against Corruption. Credit:Janie Barrett

Mr. Demian is also accused of receiving favorable results from the former Canterbury Council.

Last June, he was appointed to the board of directors of St Charbel Care Center Ltd, the company that received a $ 2.7 million grant to help build a Maronite nursing home in Punchbowl.

The development site was one that Mr. Demian knew well. He had sold it to the church for $ 2 million in 2010 (Bishop Tarabay was one of the signatures in a transfer document) and developed 87 villas on the surrounding property.

Not only was Mr. Demian on the board of directors of the nursing home, he was also a co-owner of a company that later won a $ 7 million contract to help build it.

His co-owner in that company was his lawyer Charbel Azzi, who is now busy defending Mr. Demian against taxes in excess of $ 35 million. Mr. Azzi also holds management positions at several Maronite charities and said that his work in the construction of elder care was also completely free.

Mr. Demian resigned as director of the elderly care project and the construction company in May, one month before the public hearings began at the ICAC.

Mr. Demian said that he had left for personal reasons and that there had been no conflict of interests in which his company received a contract to build a board on which he was sitting.

"The awarded works contract was based on a strict bidding process to carry out the construction works on a free margin costs basis," he said.

"I did not receive financial benefits, and all work was done on a voluntary basis, so no conflict of interest could arise."

The project design firm, which employs "traditional Lebanese housing typologies", belonged to the Marwan brothers and Ziad Chanine, who are being investigated by the ICAC for another development approval.

The documents of the Council show that the contact for the project was Barry Barakat, a banker and real estate investor who is the director of another Maronite nursing home project with the bishop.

Mr. Barakat said that all his work was provided free of charge, while the Chanine architecture studio had been chosen for his previous charitable work and "on the basis of his experience and culturally sensitive knowledge for the summary of the particular project" .

ICAC researchers have been studying a potentially corrupt development decision related to a project that would benefit Mr. Barakat and the Chanine family, as well as the reparatory Bechara Khouri Labor Party.

Mr. Khouri, who has appeared as a witness in three ICAC consultations, received a withholding of up to $ 15,000 per month to pressure the council members on behalf of Mr. Demian. He also represented the interests of Chanines.

The fact of not being Maronite has not prevented Mr. Khouri from making contacts in the functions of the Maronite church. It was at the Church of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harris Park that he met Mr. Demian, as ICAC has heard.

The current ICAC investigation continues and no findings have been found against any person mentioned in this article.

Bishop Tarabay, when asked about the appointments of figures for the elderly care project, said: "I had no responsibility for this project and I was not consulted regarding any decision taken on the issues raised."

On Monday, part two of the Herald & # 39; s The research on the Maronite church examines a school under fire for financial irregularities and the rehabilitation center that was never built.

Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Patrick Begley is a research reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.


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