Suspended Parramatta Eels chairman Steve Sharp. Photo: Shu Yeung NRL integrity boss Nick Weeks and CEO Todd Greenberg announce preliminary findings against Parramatta Eels on May 3. Photo: Mark Kolbe
Five Parramatta Eels directors and officials suspended over alleged salary-cap rorting claim the NRL did not give them a proper chance to respond before they were publicly named and shamed in preliminary findings against the club.
In the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday, barrister Arthur Moses, SC, said suspended chairman Steve Sharp, directors Tom Issa and Peter Serrao, chief executive John Boulous and football operations manager Daniel Anderson were not afforded procedural fairness by the governing body and as a result the suspensions were void and of no effect.
“In effect there’s been a public flogging of the plaintiffs because of the way the allegations have been made public without the opportunity to respond to them,” Mr Moses said.
But counsel for the NRL, Lachlan Gyles, SC, accused the quintet of taking legal action against their interim suspensions “to stay in their roles and continue to exert influence over the club” pending the NRL’s final determination as to penalties for “systemic rorting of the salary cap”.
Mr Gyles said it was unclear why the five men wanted to do so, given there was no evidence the club wanted them to stay on, or that it would reinstate them should they manage to have the interim suspensions overturned.
The NRL says it suspended the so-called “gang of five” from being registered club officials in line with its own rules when, on May 3, it announced a raft of provisional sanctions for alleged salary cap indiscretions.
Pending a final investigation, the club could be docked 12 competition points and fined $1 million.
But Mr Moses told Justice James Stevenson there was nothing in the NRL rules that allowed League Central to suspend an official without going through a process including the issuing of show-cause notices and providing a proper opportunity to respond.
He said the interim suspensions were announced at an NRL press conference about a breach notice served to the club, and the quintet were told their registrations would be cancelled in five days unless they could show cause as to why they shouldn’t.
The five men were given notice of their immediate suspension three hours before the press conference.
“Serious allegations were made in a public forum that [salary cap rorting] was done with the knowledge and support of the board and senior executives, and this was made public within a short time of the notices being provided to the plaintiffs,” Mr Moses said.
“Our friends [the NRL] say they had to jump in to protect the integrity of the game, but [the investigation] has been going on for a year and there is no explanation as to why they pulled the trigger on May 3 and why they couldn’t afford procedural fairness.”
The cancellation of the plaintiffs’ registration results in serious consequences for their “livelihoods and reputations”, Mr Moses said.
However, Mr Gyles said that, under the rules, the NRL was not required to afford procedural fairness when issuing an automatic, interim suspension.
Mr Gyles said procedural fairness was only required before a final determination to cancel a person’s registration was made.
He said the NRL had satisfied that requirement by giving the plaintiffs until June 3 to show cause why they should not have their registrations cancelled.
Further, the NRL is an independent appeal panel which can hear a challenge to any decision on registrations made by chief executive Todd Greenberg.
And he said, in issuing the interim suspensions, the NRL was not telling the five what they could or couldn’t do during the interim period, including how they discharged their duties as directors or officials.
During the hearing, the NRL agreed not to make its final decision on the fate of the five men until June 13 to give Justice Stevenson time to hand down judgment.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.