The NSW anti-corruption watchdog will on Monday begin its second round of hearings for Operation Keppel, a probe that started by looking into former Wagga MP Daryl Maguire and is now targeting former premier Gladys Berejiklian.
The allegations that brought an abrupt end to Ms Berejiklian's career in NSW politics this month will now be put to the test.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) will be looking at major grants to Wagga institutions worth millions of dollars that were awarded between 2016 and 2018.
One of the grants was $5.5 million to the Australian Clay Target Association (ACTA) to build The Range function centre in Wagga.
ICAC is also looking at one or both of the grants to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, worth a total of $30 million, to shift locations in Wagga and build a new music recital hall complex on Simmons Street.
The hearings will examine whether Ms Berejiklian breached public trust through any involvement in the grants being awarded while she was in a close personal relationship with Mr Maguire.
ICAC will also examine whether Ms Berejiklian refused to exercise her legal duty to report she suspected, on reasonable grounds, that Mr Maguire had engaged in corrupt conduct.
Ms Berejiklian has denied the allegations, saying she "always acted with the highest level of integrity".
A document released by the NSW Parliament shows Mr Maguire contacted Ms Berejiklian via letter about the clay target function centre on January 27, 2016, when she was NSW Treasurer.
Mr Maguire told Ms Berejiklian he had been approached by the then ACTA executive officer, Tony Turner, in regard to funding for the new centre.
"Your advice will be appreciated," Mr Maguire stated.
Ms Berejiklian responded with a typed letter to which she added "Dear Daryl" in her own handwriting.
"Thank you for bringing Mr Turner's request to the government's attention," Ms Berejiklian stated.
Such correspondence between MPs and ministers is common, but what very few people, if any, knew at the time was that Mr Maguire and Ms Berejiklian were in a close personal relationship.
Ms Berejiklian told ICAC in 2020 that the relationship started some time after the 2015 NSW election, whereas Mr Maguire testified that it could have started earlier.
Regional NSW executive director Chris Hanger wrote to Infrastructure NSW chief executive Jim Betts on June 1, 2017, seeking "review and consideration" for budget allocations for multiple projects including Wagga's clay target centre.
"The Department's Investment Appraisal Unit (IAU) has assessed the updated business case provided by ACTA for the development of a large clubhouse / conference facility and associated infrastructure at their existing site in Wagga Wagga following a request by the Premier," Mr Hanger stated.
Ms Berejiklian had by then replaced Mike Baird as NSW Premier.
About eight months before Mr Hangar's letter, the NSW Department of Industry had described the Wagga clay target function centre's business case as "flawed" with a benefit/cost ratio below the threshold needed for funding approval.
Mr Hangar will appear as a witness at the new ICAC hearings on Thursday and Mr Baird will appear on Wednesday.
When the documents were released earlier this year, Ms Berejiklian said any suggestions she had a conflict of interest in the grant process were "absolutely ridiculous" and she said "all proper processes were followed".
The opposition has repeatedly targeted the Riverina Conservatorium of Music's grants in Parliament since the first round of ICAC hearings in 2020.
Labor MLC Courtney Houssos said in October last year that the Wagga project "received more money than the rest of the 18 regional conservatoria combined".
ICAC has not called either Mr Maguire or Ms Berejiklian to appear at the first week of hearings in Sydney.
NSW Government Office of Sport former director Michael Toohey will be the first and only scheduled witness for the first of an estimated 10 days of hearings.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet declined to comment on Sunday about the upcoming hearings, saying he would not "give a running commentary".