'Sex for planning permission' saga grips Australia

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The Independent Online

The town planner was a young and attractive blonde. They were ageing property developers with wives and families. But in an unusual twist on the classic scenario, it was the men who allegedly provided sexual favours in exchange for her approval for illegal high-rise buildings.

The story, revealed in a public inquiry into claims of corruption in Wollongong, a coastal city south of Sydney, has captivated Australians all week. Emails and text messages between Beth Morgan, 32, and her lovers have been reproduced in lurid detail in the media.

Ms Morgan, who took gifts including a holiday in China, designer handbags, a digital camera, perfume and cash, was said by one of the developers to be on a "mission to have sex with successful businessmen". Two of them, Frank Vellar and Glen Tabak, have admitted affairs with her; a third, Michael Kollaras, with whom she said she had also been involved, denied it.

Ms Morgan's tortured love life – including a long-term relationship with Mr Vellar, who has admitted seeing several other women at the same time – came to light following an undercover sting by anti-corruption investigators. In one email released at the Sydney hearing, she told Mr Vellar: "You have driven me insane with thoughts of you." He replied "I promised you my life, this I will honour... I am not your normal guy. I am complicated. Ciao Franco x".

The salacious revelations are not only providing Australians with a daily dose of scandal. They also threaten to engulf the New South Wales state government of Morris Iemma, with five of his ministers linked, either directly or indirectly, to key figures in the affair.

Ms Morgan was sacked by Wollongong City Council last year for "serious misconduct". During the three years before that, she was involved in assessing or approving four major developments worth more than £64m. Two were Mr Vellar's. Shortly before approving Mr Tabak's A$31m (£14.6m) project, Ms Morgan paid for a hotel room for the pair.

Mr Vellar was said to have obtained approval for a A$100m commercial and residential building although its height and scale were grossly out of kilter with council regulations. Ms Morgan told the inquiry that he gave her bundles of cash – A$1,000 or A$2,000 – on about 10 occasions. Last week, he gave her a final instalment of $1,000, as he ended their relationship, she added. The money, she said, was "to support me and look after me when I was in financial difficulties, not as a bribe or inducement".

The inquiry was told that Ms Morgan and Mr Vellar paid A$150,000 to two men posing as anti-corruption officials, who tricked them into believing they could destroy the evidence against them. One said Mr Vellar told him Ms Morgan would sleep with him. The hearing is expected to last for another week.

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