The Victorian Liberal Party has taken out a $2 million overdraft on its landmark city headquarters after the fraud scandal perpetrated by disgraced state director Damien Mantach.
The Australian can reveal that the party has mortgaged the 104 Exhibition Street building in Melbourne to the National Australia Bank, with documents showing the mortgage was signed off by party treasurer and rich-lister Andrew Abercrombie and former ANZ chairman Charles Goode on February 4.
Access to the $2m will mean the party will no longer have to dip into the so-called central fighting fund, which includes cash raised by branches such as Kooyong and Higgins, which helps underpin the party.
The Australian understands that under Mantach, these funds had been used to help run the party — including during campaigns — when emergency funds may be needed before Australian Electoral Commission payments are made soon after polling day.
The Mantach theft of $1.5m was arguably the worst act of criminal deceit experienced by the Victorian party since it was formed by Robert Menzies.
Incumbent party director Simon Frost said the overdraft was not related to Mantach and was more broadly to ensure better financial management of the party, especially during elections.
“The party established an overdraft facility … to assist with the cashflow requirements of funding election campaigns.
“It is in no way related to the alleged fraud of the former state director,’’ he said.
The Australian understands, however, that the decision to place a mortgage on the property arose after an exhaustive review of party finances after Mantach, 42, stole about $1.5m between June 2010 and January last year.
In a sophisticated scam, Mantach admitted siphoning the money into an account called Campaign Mail Logistics, which was set up in his wife name.
Using dozens of fake invoices, Mantach sent MPs or the party bills for work that either wasn’t done or was overstated.
More than $500,000 was siphoned off into shares and more than $600,000 was spent on his wife’s cafe, with a further $80,000 spent on a car.
The theft was uncovered by Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger, who initiated a root and branch overhaul of the party’s finances.
As part of the post-Mantach overhaul, Mr Kroger is backing former party president Russell Hannan to replace Mr Abercrombie as party treasurer.
Mr Kroger is believed to want to replace Caroline Elliott — daughter of former beer baron John Elliott — as female metropolitan vice-president with former state MP Jan Kronberg.
Mantach has admitted to the fraud and is on remand awaiting sentencing but Mr Kroger has said not enough was done to head off the scandal.
The mortgagor of 104 Exhibition Street is Vapold Pty Ltd, a Liberal entity of which Mr Abercrombie, of St Georges Road in Toorak, and Mr Goode, of 101 Collins Street, are directors.
The ease with which Mantach was able to steal $1.5m from the party outraged many, particularly small-time donors and fundraisers, and raised serious questions about what checks were in place.
“It’s hard to believe he was even appointed to the job,’’ a senior state MP said.
This is in the context of Mantach having been all but sacked as Tasmanian Liberal director nearly 10 years ago, having been forced to refund nearly $50,000 of personal expenses.