The candidate, a 'radical cult' and $6m squandered on the college that never was

The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia/February 27, 2011

The family of Bankstown Liberal candidate Bill Chahine was involved in a controversial land deal with a school linked to a "radical cult" that ended up costing taxpayers almost $6 million dollars in compensation.

When the state government sold the surplus land in 2006, it thought it was selling to a residential developer, Gardenview Apartments. The director of the company at the time was Mr Chahine's father, Albert Chahine, and the Chahine family plumbing company, ABC Plumbing Services, was the ultimate holding company and shareholder. Bill Chahine is now a director and shareholder of the family's plumbing company.

Documents obtained by The Sun-Herald show that the NSW government eventually paid more than $10 million to buy back the surplus chunk of the Bass Hill school site, which had been sold to an Islamic college after it was secured by tender by the Chahine family companies for $4.4 million.

The state government has always refused to reveal how much it paid to claw back the property.

A political storm erupted when it was revealed that Al Amanah College - run by the Islamic Charity Projects Association, which is linked to the controversial Al-Ahbash group - was the real owner of the site and planned to build an Islamic school for 1200 students.

The Australian National Imams Council, which represents almost 100 Imams around the country, has warned that the Al-Ahbash is a "radical cult" with "sectarian fringe views." Al-Ahbash has denied these claims.

A few weeks before the settlement of the school land, all shares in Gardenview were sold to Al Amanah, which reappointed directors. Gardenview then asked the government to register the land in the name of Al Amanah.

But following a community outcry about the proposed new Islamic school, the NSW opposition fought against the project.

While the school was initially rejected by Bankstown Council, it was later given the green light by the NSW Land and Environment Court.

The Department of Education then moved to compulsorily acquire the property on Johnston Road in Bass Hill, with the Valuer-General last year putting the market value of the land at $8,550,000, plus $1,479.333.51 for ''disturbance''. A total of $10,029,333.51 was paid on May 21 last year to the Al Amanah College as compensation.

Bill Chahine told The Sun-Herald yesterday: "We tendered, I mean Albert tendered for the land, and due to contamination of the land we decided to sell our tender." A spokeswoman for Mr Chahine also said that it was the state government that had made a "woeful" deal and the Labor Party were trying to sling mud at him because of his early involvement. "The government could have rejected the tender," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Liberal Party said there was "a vicious smear campaign under way by Labor because it fears its control over south-west Sydney is being challenged."

"The community has had enough of being taken for granted by Labor and its power-brokers like Eddie Obeid," she said.

The battle for Bankstown has been heating up, and there is no love lost between candidates Tania Mihailuk, Rebecca Kay and Mr Chahine.

Ms Mihailuk, the ALP candidate, is accused of trying to influence Ms Kay's hockey club to take her off promotional material, and Liberal supporters have allegedly sent Ms Kay threatening mail. One email sent to Ms Kay was signed by Liberal4btown, and said : "I wouldn't talk much coming from a family that sells drugs just watch what you say when you speak or write to the media."

The mail refers to Ms Kay's in-laws, the Darwiche family, who are known to police but have not been charged with any drug offences.

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