ANU victim to embezzlement

Nick Rowbotham reports on an embezzlement scandal at the Australian National University Student Association

In June last year, the Canberra Times reported that an office-bearer of the Australian National University Student Association (ANUSA) had embezzled up to $60,000 from ANUSA, the ANU Interhall Sports Organisation (ISO), and ANU Student Media (ANUSM) – which publishes the student newspaper Woroni.

Since then, it has emerged that the three organisations were defrauded to the tune of over $125,000, after an audit of their finances was conducted by accounting firm KPMG. The fraud is alleged to have occurred over a period of two and a half years. ANUSA is said to have lost $74,000, ANUSM $34,000, and the ISO $18,000.

The Canberra Times published another piece in December 2012 exposing the full extent of the fraud. The piece claimed that a statement on Woroni’s website – which was later censored by ANUSA and the university for legal reasons – was prompted by the Times notifying ANUSM that it intended to publish a story detailing the scale of the theft of student funds.

Alternative news website VEXNEWS went further in a piece published shortly after the initial Canberra Times article. It named erstwhile Treasurer of ANUSA Victor White as the perpetrator of the fraud. It alleged that White embezzled the funds by simply transferring the money to his own bank account, an assertion that was repeated by theTimes in its article last December.

Honi Soit spoke to sources at ANUSM, who claim that they have contacted police on four separate occasions and are still yet to receive any indication that White is being pursued or that charges will be laid. Honi has also been told that White – a former student at Knox Grammar School – has moved back to Sydney and is currently living with his parents.

Regardless of the outcome of the (supposedly) ongoing police investigation, ANUSA will not inevitably be damaged by the theft, as its finances were insured. But the scandal has raised significant questions surrounding financial security and accountability in student organisations.

A further opinion piece published in the Canberra Times last year by an undergraduate student of ANU implored that for an organisation with a budget of over $1 million, ANUSA ought to have higher standards of financial management and accountability. ANUSA later contended that it had “implemented more stringent financial controls since the start of [2012]”.

Notwithstanding, it remains unclear how blatant theft on such a large scale went undetected for so long.