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Former Casey mayor Sam Aziz returns to Australia

While all overseas arrivals in Sydney face mandatory two week COVID-19 quarantine in hotels, Mr Aziz was taken to hospital. The precise nature of his current health problem is unclear but in the past the 47-year-old has complained of a chronic heart condition, diabetes and mental health challenges.

Health depending, it is now likely Mr Aziz will be called to appear at IBAC’s public examination of alleged corruption at Casey when it resumes as part of Operation Sandon. Hearings were suspended in March because of concerns about COVID-19 and public health. No date has yet been set for their resumption.

On Friday an IBAC spokesperson said the watchdog was aware of the “recent return to Australia” of Mr Aziz who “remained a focus of IBAC’s Operation Sandon”.

Mr Aziz may now also appear at a trial set for September as he fights the state over its seizure of his assets after he sold his Berwick home for $755,000 shortly before leaving for Egypt.

Documents filed in the County Court late in October reveal Mr Aziz is suspected of committing offences such as receiving bribes, misconduct in public office and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He has not been charged with any offence.

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He faces allegations before IBAC that Mr Woodman bribed him and another Casey councillor Geoff Ablett with payments of more than $1.2 million in exchange for favourable planning and other decisions.

In November, IBAC heard Mr Woodman paid Mr Aziz $900,000 with much of the money delivered in cash-filled suitcases.

Mr Aziz has denied the payments were bribes and has vowed to defend the allegations but had until now insisted he was too ill to fly home to fight the claims. Until February, when the state government sacked the council, Mr Aziz was claiming paid leave from the City of Casey.

Over six weeks of hearings from November to March, IBAC also heard how Aziz was central to Mr Woodman’s strategy of controlling Casey by bankrolling teams of candidates at council elections. IBAC is yet to release any findings or its final report.

Mr Woodman showered councillors and state political candidates with donations in his bid to win planning approvals worth hundreds of millions of dollars for his developer clients and himself.

An IBAC surveillance photo of former Casey councillor Sam Aziz (left) and developer John Woodman (right) at a Subway restaurant in April 2018.

An IBAC surveillance photo of former Casey councillor Sam Aziz (left) and developer John Woodman (right) at a Subway restaurant in April 2018. Credit:IBAC

Operation Sandon, the most significant probe into alleged planning-related corruption in Victoria in decades, centred on concerns about Mr Woodman’s outsized influence at Casey, first revealed by The Sunday Age in late 2018.

Cr Aziz has had a number of significant roles outside of council, including as a Victorian multicultural commissioner and as a director of intelligence and investigations for Customs. He was a political adviser to a state Labor minister in the 1990s but switched party allegiance to become a Liberal while on Casey council.

In February, opposition frontbencher Tim Smith called for Mr Aziz’s expulsion from the Liberal Party.

Mr Aziz was unavailable for comment.

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