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Former V/Line chief executive James Pinder was allegedly handed $320,000 by a cleaning company – which he used to help buy a $2.5 million Williamstown home – after it won a multimillion-dollar contract with the regional rail operator.

The state's anti-corruption commission, IBAC, has launched public hearings into "suspected collusion by public officials" at V/Line and Metro to advance the commercial interests of a cleaning contractor Transclean, in return for financial benefits.

Former V/Line boss James Pinder is being questioned by IBAC over allegations that public officials received financial gain in return for granting cleaning contracts. Credit:The Age

This marks the second corruption probe into V/Line in three years.

Mr Pinder and Metro's head of fleet operational support Peter Bollas stand accused of allegedly pocketing cash payments from Transclean while overseeing cleaning contracts at the train operators and using burner phones to communicate secretly with each other over a period of four years.

Transclean is the cleaning contractor for V/Line and Metro and performs security work for Yarra Trams.

Counsel assisting Paul Lawrie accused Mr Pinder and Mr Bollas of allegedly "using their positions to financially benefit Transclean and themselves" at the live-streamed hearings, which will call both men and Transclean's boss George Haritos in for questioning.

Former V/Line chief executive James Pinder’s Williamstown

Seven months after Mr Pinder authorised a decision by V/Line's board to grant Transclean a major cleaning contract worth up to $40 million in May 2018, the cleaning company made the first of several payments to Mr Pinder, the inquiry heard.

In December 2018, a Transclean associate allegedly transferred $100,000 for a deposit on Mr Pinder's new Williamstown home, which he bought in December 2019 for $2.5 million.

This payment came a day before Mr Pinder submitted a report to IBAC advising the watchdog that he had stamped out corruption at V/Line, after IBAC uncovered a "jobs for mates culture" in 2017 that saw executives bypass tender rules to grant friends and associates large contracts with eye-watering salaries.

Transclean then made several more payments to Mr Pinder between late 2018 and early 2019, totalling at least $320,000, "which went towards the purchase of the [Williamstown] property, and which ultimately traced back to Transclean", Mr Lawrie told the hearings.

Mr Pinder allegedly started using a burner phone to communicate with Transclean's boss George Haritos and Mr Bollas after he was appointed as V/Line's chief executive.

The trio communicated this way for four years, in a bid to "keep the trio's dealings beyond detection", Mr Lawrie said. The phones were subscribed in the names of Transclean associates.

The three men have known each other for nearly a decade, with Mr Bollas reporting to Mr Pinder when he was head of rolling stock at Metro between 2012 and 2015, Mr Lawrie told the hearings. Transclean was Metro's cleaning contractor at the time.

Mr Pinder left Metro in 2015 and returned to the UK, but was poached as chief executive of V/Line, where he started working in late 2016.

By May 2018, Transclean won a three-year $17 million contract with V/Line, replacing a long-time contractor.

At the board meeting where it was decided to hand Transclean the contract, the inquiry heard Mr Pinder was given direct control of the contract, instead of the board.

This gave Mr Pinder the power to decide if the contract should be extended for a full seven-year term, adding $23 million to the value of the contract.

This was well over the $5 million budget Mr Pinder was permitted to oversee as chief executive.

IBAC launched an investigation after detecting a number of "suspect bank account transactions between the chief executive of V/Line James Pinder and associates of Transclean."

The hearing continues.

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