Craig Thomson – the former federal Labor MP and “pivotal” player in an alleged migration fraud – has no property or other assets and recently applied for JobSeeker, a court has been told.
The 57-year-old was granted bail on Thursday after a magistrate agreed not to impose a $500,000 surety prosecutors insisted was needed before his release.
Walking from Gosford police station, Thomson told reporters he was “absolutely” innocent and would fight the allegations.
The former member for Dobell on the NSW Central Coast was arrested on Wednesday over his alleged role in a four-year visa fraud scheme.
Federal police allege he helped exploit potential visa applicants in farm work and food service industries – some of whom were allegedly employed at skill levels below their visa requirements.
While the case against him was circumstantial, the Crown said there was consistency in the offending with the former MP “being the common thread”.
“Whilst it may be the case he was a facilitator, certainly the crown case is that he was pivotal in a scheme in which those documents were lodged,” Chelsea Brain said.
Business sponsorships were real but applicants either didn’t work at the company, worked in positions below their purported skill level or were subject of otherwise fraudulent visa applications, Ms Brain said.
Deposits amounting to $970,000 into accounts linked to Thomson are attributable to visa applicants’ names, the court was told.
Another $1.25 million is unable to be linked to names.
Thomson has been charged with 30 offences, including 26 migration law breaches.
But Ms Brain said those charges relate to only 10 visa applicants – with further charges expected concerning another 120 allegedly fraudulent visa applications sponsored by 25 businesses.
Thomson’s lawyer, however, noted the 36-page police facts sheet didn’t allege Thomson forged any documents.
“Mr Thomson denies any wrongdoing and intends to vigorously defend the charges,” Jamie Clements said.
If not granted bail, Thomson could face two years in custody awaiting trial, Mr Clements said, pointing out the matter was “extremely complicated”.
No breaches of bail were recorded when Thomson faced theft charges in Victoria after leaving parliament in 2013, the court was told.
Those charges resulted in convictions and a fine, but no jail time, Mr Clements said.
Strongly opposing the surety condition, Mr Clements noted the former MP had known of the investigation since July and been interviewed twice by police.
“He has no property, no assets. All of the assets from the marriage are in his estranged wife’s name. He’s recently applied for JobSeeker benefits, he just doesn’t have assets,” the lawyer said.
Mr Clements, himself a former NSW Labor figure, stressed bail “cannot just be on offer to those who have access to funds”.
“Community ties is the main thing, why would he leave Australia … with no access to funds?”
Magistrate Jennifer Price agreed other conditions, such as daily reporting to police and bans on speaking to a host of actual and potential crown witnesses, could address the risk of Thomson fleeing or interfering with witnesses.
She was satisfied his 16 years in the Gosford area and family connections reduced his chance of fleeing overseas.
The potential years-long delay before any trial also played a part in her bail decision.
Thomson is due back in court on February 8.