WA port worker, family in corruption probe

WA Police have issued arrest warrants for Daniela and Giacomo "Jack" Merolla over an alleged fraud.
WA Police have issued arrest warrants for Daniela and Giacomo "Jack" Merolla over an alleged fraud.

Western Australia police are investigating an alleged multimillion-dollar corruption scandal at Fremantle Ports, with an employee and his wife and their children facing charges.

Police say 54-year-old Giacomo "Jack" Merolla created several shelf companies within Australia and overseas, and used them to profit from contracts estimated to be worth several million dollars.

It's alleged more than a million dollars has been transferred to bank accounts controlled by the shelf companies.

Police are still investigating the full extent of the financial benefit gained by those involved in the alleged fraudulent activity.

Detectives have secured arrest warrants for Merolla and his wife, 54-year-old Daniela Merolla, with regards to some of the alleged offending.

Police believe the pair left Australia earlier this year and have since attempted to dispose of their Australian-based assets.

Their son and daughter have also been arrested after detectives searched homes and a storage facility, seizing more than $70,000.

Paolo Vincenzo Merolla, 23, faced Perth Magistrates Court on Tuesday charged with seven counts of property laundering.

Tiziana Merolla, 28, faces two property laundering charges. The pair were released on bail to return to court on August 11.

Police say the ongoing investigation has unearthed evidence of corrupt business practices at Fremantle Ports dating back to 2014.

Detective Senior Sergeant Ken Foster said the Merollas were mistaken if they thought they could hide overseas to avoid justice.

"We will track them down," he said.

"Our advice to them is to come home now to sort this mess out."

The probe was launched after Fremantle Ports reported concerns to WA Police regarding the activity of one of its employees.

Fremantle Ports chair Ross Love said the alleged crimes represented a betrayal of everyone at the port authority.

"This is not the way we do business," he said.

A scathing parliamentary report last month highlighted concerns about widespread corruption in WA's public sector after several major scandals in recent years, including an alleged $22 million fraud involving a former housing department executive.

The state's former trade commissioner to Japan was found to have committed a $500,000 rort while three health bureaucrats were found to have taken gratuities from contractors for a decade in exchange for ongoing work.

Premier Mark McGowan said the latest scandal showed his government's efforts to stamp out public sector corruption were working.

Australian Associated Press