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Dirty rags, homeless jokes: cleaning bosses in COVID sabotage plot caught on tape

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A slew of phone calls played to the hearings revealed how Mr Bollas – who last year admitted to IBAC that he accepted monthly cash bribes from Transclean – played a key role in plotting to tamper with the tests.

Mr Bollas tipped off Mr Kyritsis about where the testing would occur and in one instance joked about putting “some homeless f— er there” to ruin the trials.

Mr Bollas joked in the intercepted call that there would be “enough time to clean up the dirty water”, which Mr Lawrie suggested was a reference to evidence of deliberate test contamination.

“I never did that,” Mr Kyritsis told the inquiry.

Mr Kyritsis was also heard telling Mr Bollas on one of the calls that “friends at Yarra Trams” – which he told the inquiry related to a contractor – gave Transclean a heads-up about the thoroughness of cleaning audits being carried out.

An elaborate plot to undermine the Zoono trials was revealed in phone conversations between Mr Haritos and his nephew in May 2020, in which the Transclean boss said a serviette from a rubbish bin should be used to contaminate surfaces on trains to stop the product being approved.

The pair also discussed using white rags, which Mr Kyritsis said he “might do the dishes with”.

Mr Haritos said: “Dishes … and then put a little bit in the bin.

“Like from the rubbish bin, just a serviette, just bang, bang, touch four, five points as she’s going, the opportunity is if she’s sneezing or something,” Mr Haritos said about the woman who was set to carry out the contamination.

Mr Kyritsis is heard on the call cautioning against contaminating the trials too much to avoid raising suspicion. “If you put too much on it, it’ll be obvious,” he told his uncle. “And they do tests all the time, so they know what’s in a normal range.”

The trio’s plans to contaminate the trials were unsuccessful, IBAC heard.

In separate phone calls played to the hearings, Mr Bollas was heard tipping Mr Kyritsis off about upcoming surprise audits being carried out to evaluate the quality of cleaning during the COVID-19 period.

Mr Bollas coached Mr Kyritsis on how he could create the false impression there were more staff cleaning trains and that cleaning practices were rigorous – by showing the same water used to clean the floors was not used to clean other surfaces.

“They’re not going to use the same f—ing water to do the, to do the, the um floors, they have to change the water, they have to change the soap,” Mr Bollas told Mr Kyritsis.

Transclean staff cleaning a Metro train carriage during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Transclean staff cleaning a Metro train carriage during the COVID-19 pandemic.Credit:Metro Trains

“The spraying needs to get better,” he said, adding three different types of wipes were needed and the same water.

Mr Bollas also instructed Mr Kyritsis to ensure the time sheets showed higher staff levels and recommended another cleaner be rostered on for the review.

“If the sign in sheets don’t show your people are working … additional hours … you’ve failed,” he said.

“You guys aren’t meant to know this,” he said.

Mr Kyritsis told IBAC he destroyed old time sheets except for the days leading up to the audit, but claimed this was “normal practice”.

Mr Lawrie said it was clear from Mr Bollas’ instructions that Transclean was not cleaning the trains properly during the pandemic.

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“What is being suggested by Mr Bollas to you is that whatever is happening at the time is not the standard that is required by the auditor,” Mr Lawrie said.

Mr Kyritsis: “You could say that, but you could also say he wanted it to go smoothly.”

Mr Lawrie said Mr Kyritsis and Mr Bollas were “scheming to defeat the auditors [which] shows a complete contempt for the Victorian public during that crisis”.

“Not at all,” Mr Kyritsis said.

Operation Esperance is examining evidence that senior public officials within the transport bureaucracy, including sacked V/Line chief executive James Pinder, were bribed by Transclean.

IBAC has previously heard that Transclean cut corners on cleaning the city’s trains while paying off Mr Bollas and Mr Pinder during the pandemic.

Taxpayers paid Transclean $1.3 million a month for extra COVID-19 cleaning on suburban trains, on top of the company’s contract worth up to $40 million at V/Line and $5 million at Metro.

Mr Pinder and Mr Bollas devised a plan to be paid $50,000 in bonuses by Transclean due to the increase in work created during the pandemic, which Mr Haritos described as “sprinkles”.

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This was in addition to payments of between $8000 and $10,000 they received over 3½ to four years, IBAC heard.

This occurred even though Mr Bollas knew as early as April that Transclean was failing to disinfect the trains during COVID-19. Mr Bollas told IBAC he had been covering up Transclean’s mistakes for more than three years.

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