Three Australians who received visas with the help of the disgraced former New South Wales Liberal MP Daryl Maguire could be stripped of their citizenship if it was obtained through fraud, the home affairs department chief has warned.
Michael Pezzullo made the threat in Senate estimates on Friday when he promised his department would be “tough-minded” if fraud was proven after a departmental and Australian Border Force investigation into the cash-for-visa scheme.
Maguire, who for years maintained a secret relationship with the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, admitted to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) in October that he received thousands of dollars in payments over the scheme he allegedly helped to run.
In estimates on Friday, the deputy secretary of immigration and settlement services, Andrew Kefford, revealed that of the 14 people Maguire helped obtain visas, nine are still in Australia and three now have Australian citizenship.
The shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, said in the hearing it was “extraordinary” that “three people became citizens when it appears, from Mr Maguire, that he fraudulently got them into Australia”.
“A Liberal member of parliament selling visas? And three people become citizens? What sort of border control is this?” she said. The chair of the legal and constitutional affairs committee, Coalition MP Amanda Stoker, warned that the alleged fraud hadn’t been proven in court.
Pezzullo said there were ongoing investigations but if visas were granted due to false credentials or fraudulent information “as a general principle they will be cancelled”.
The law also allows people to be stripped of their Australian citizenship and Pezzullo promised to “come down in a tough-minded way after we’ve done our processes”. Another official noted that the three became citizens before the investigation was opened on 8 October.
The cash-for-visa scheme is a key element of Icac’s investigation into allegations Maguire misused his position as an MP for his own financial gain.
The scheme allowed Australian employers to earn a subsidy for falsely employing Chinese nationals full-time so they could obtain a visa. Icac has heard a company Maguire “effectively” controlled received payments.
Maguire admitted in his evidence to Icac he knew the scheme involved lying to immigration officials.
In October, Pezzullo told estimates he believed that Maguire had made representations to the federal department over visa issues.