World News

Sex-and-property scandal stuns Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A sex-and-property scandal involving a female city planner on a “mission for sex” in return for approvals of high-rise buildings threatened to engulf Australia’s biggest state government on Friday.

An undercover sting by anti-corruption investigators uncovered a web of affairs involving 32-year-old town planner Beth Morgan in the steel-and-surfing city of Wollongong, south of Sydney, with three prominent building developers.

Morgan, said by one of the three men to be “on a mission for sex”, gave approval for millions of dollars worth of unlawful city building developments in return for gifts and affairs, the powerful Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) heard.

“Mile High Rise Club,” said a headline in the mass-selling Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Morgan gave testimony to the commission about the affairs, admitted to by two developers, while a third denied the pair actually had a sexual relationship.

But the scandal, which has captivated Australians, also threatens several ministers in the government of the nation’s most populous state, New South Wales, which includes Sydney.

Australians generally believe their country to be largely corruption free and it ranks well on the international index prepared by Transparency International.

Amid the public ICAC hearings, state Premier Morris Iemma promised to sack a senior minister if he was found to have improperly given a job to a Wollongong city councilor linked to the scandal.

Four other state ministers have also been indirectly linked by the ICAC to central figures in the furor.

“Anyone found to have done the wrong thing will be out, no matter who they are,” Iemma said.

The ICAC hearings have been given front-page treatment, with corruption investigators documenting lurid details of emails and phone messages between Morgan and her alleged lovers, which in turn have run in newspapers nationally.

Adding to public shock are photographs of the stylish Morgan and the men she pursued, receiving from them cameras, cash payments, a China holiday and designer handbags, the ICAC heard.

Hundreds of late night and weekend phone calls between Morgan and her alleged partners have also been logged by corruption investigators from the commission.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani