Aboriginal corporation in turmoil over cash claims

A Northern Territory politician has been accused of covering up allegations that her brother misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from an Aboriginal corporation.

The organisation responsible for overseeing Aboriginal bodies has confirmed it is investigating the operations of the Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation (JAAC), one of the largest Indigenous interest groups in the Territory.

The corporation's chief executive Wes Miller was stood down by the board this week.

Cultural and environment manager Ray Whear was also stood down, pending a performance review.

For the time being, both remain on full pay.

The board has installed former chief executive officer Preston Lee as the corporation's acting CEO.

Mr Whear has now asked Northern Territory Police to investigate the alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of Jawoyn funds by Mr Lee while Mr Lee was the corporation's CEO between 2010 and August last year.

Mr Whear also alleges Mr Lee's sister, Territory Government MLA Larisa Lee, knew about the alleged misappropriation and directed him and Mr Miller not to tell the board.

Mr Miller has written to the Office of the Registrar of Aboriginal Corporations (ORIC) expressing his concerns about the operations of Jawoyn Association during Mr Lee's time in office.

He says JAAC staff advised him that hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporation funds had been spent on household goods, equipment, travel and accommodation by way of purchase orders, fuel cards and cash cheques.

Mr Whear says at least $50,000 of JAAC funds were spent by Mr Lee to engage lawyers to defend personal aggravated assault charges.

Mr Miller has told ORIC he is concerned the financial viability of JAAC will be threatened if Mr Lee is allowed to take over as CEO of the Corporation.

“I am deeply saddened by the behaviour that JAAC staff brought to my attention in June last year,” he said.

He says that at the time of Mr Lee's resignation last year from the CEO role at JAAC, his sister Larisa Lee was running for election in the seat of Arnhem, in which she was subsequently elected.

Mr Miller says he believes that it was at the insistence of Ms Lee that the circumstances surrounding Mr Lee's resignation and the extent of the alleged misappropriations were not disclosed to the JAAC board and Jawoyn members.

Preston Lee and Larissa Lee have not been available for interview.

Ms Lee has issued a statement saying that she will co-operate with any police investigations of the matter.

Chief Minister Terry Mills is supporting Ms Lee's decision not to respond to the accusations.

"I think, by virtue of her keenness and full support for a police investigation, it is a clear indication that she doesn't have a concern," he said.

"But I am not going to pass commentary on these things because the important thing is to allow, if an allegation's been made, it has got to be properly tested."

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