Taxpayers have allegedly been defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars by a recently retired Liberal Party federal MP who appears to have paid his wife for non-existent work in his electorate office.
Documents obtained by Fairfax Media indicate Alex Somlyay, an MP for 23 years who retired at the election in September, billed taxpayers $69,157.15 for his wife's employment during 2012-13 alone.
Mr Somlyay's wife was not seen at work during the past three years, said a source close to the electorate office. Nor was the source aware of any electorate work completed by the former MP's wife in or out of the office during this period.
Mr Somlyay appears to have obscured his wife's identity in his list of employed staff. At the top of an internal staffing document, titled ''monthly management report'', the former MP's wife is listed as ''Jennifer Bridget Somlyay''.
But lower on the same page, under a section titled ''electorate employees'', an apparently different woman named ''Jennifer Donovan'' is listed. This second woman, Ms Donovan, received at least $99,000 for ''electorate office'' work dating as far back as 2003, further documents indicate. Donovan is the maiden name of Mr Somlyay's wife, according to the former MP's entry in Who's Who in Australia.
Despite the mysterious Ms Donovan never having been seen at work in the former MP's Maroochydore electorate office, Mr Somlyay's ''relief staffing budget'' states that she worked 270 days, or 2030 hours, between September 2012 and December 2013.
Throughout that period, Mr Somlyay was leading the Coalition opposition's pursuit of former speaker Peter Slipper over his alleged abuse of taxpayer entitlements. Mr Somlyay has also chaired powerful parliamentary committees overseeing privileges and members' interests.
Despite not coming to work or being seen to have done any work in the past year, Ms Donovan was given a pay rise during this period.
From September 2012 to April 2013, her taxpayer-funded salary was $64,085. It jumped to $78,844 between July and December 2013.
Asked what Ms Donovan did, Mr Somlyay said on Monday: ''I've retired, mate … I'm out of it, OK.''
Told about the documents that revealed the tens of thousands of dollars' worth of payments to his wife, the former MP said: ''No comment … see ya, bye.''
Mr Somlyay did not respond to a text message that outlined the allegations in further detail, nor did he or his wife respond to a voicemail message left at their home.
While it was not illegal for Mr Somlyay to employ his wife in his electorate office, payments for non-existent work, if proved, could constitute fraud.
Asked about the process followed in such cases - without reference to Mr Somlyay - an Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said an allegation would need to be referred to the police and, ''if it looks like a Commonwealth offence had taken place, then we would investigate it''.
It has been two months since the Prime Minister announced new rules for politicians' entitlements. Tony Abbott's crackdown followed a series of exposes published by Fairfax Media, that encouraged MPs from both sides of politics to repay more than $20,000 in just a few weeks for dubious ''work events'' claimed, including friends' weddings.
In November, Mr Abbott proposed a series of reforms including fines for wrongly claimed expenses and suggested a prohibition on MPs and senators employing wives and family members.
Mr Somlyay was a minister in the Howard government and more recently served as chief opposition whip. He served a combined 10 years on the joint statutory committees for the National Crime Authority and public accounts and audit. In his farewell speech on June 24, 2013, Mr Somlyay spoke of his uncommon integrity.
''When I was first elected, I promised myself that I would never do the things people hate about politics,'' Mr Somlyay said.
''People hate deceit and untrustworthiness in their politicians.
''My word is my bond and I can honestly say that, in my 23 years in Parliament, I have never betrayed a confidence - yet.''
On Tuesday Mr Somlyay told the ABC his wife was a qualified researcher who had been doing legitimate work for him.
‘‘Jenny, my wife, was employed by me under the relief budget, which was within the rules,’’ he said.
‘‘It is true that she worked from home, which was part of the workplace agreement, which she signed and she did the work and she got the pay.’’
The Liberal Party has from this month banned MPs employing family members.Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne said all MPs were well aware of the ban.
‘‘That is our policy,’’ he said.
He said he understood that no one had made a complaint to authorities about Mr Somlyay’s conduct.
‘‘I’m sure if there is any wrongdoing, it will be pursued ... by the appropriate authorities if somebody lays a complaint.’’
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The story Allegations MP's wife drew taxpayer-funded salary despite doing no work first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.