A student is in hot water and facing an investigation by detectives at Newtown Police Station after transferring more than $12,000 from University of Sydney Union (USU) club bank accounts to her personal account.
The USU confirmed the transfers, telling Honi that the $12,000 was taken from three separate USU clubs. Among them, the humanitarian charity-aligned Sydney University Red Cross Society.
Staff in the USU’s finance team are said to have stumbled onto the transfers, discovering discrepancies in the club accounts dating back three years.
The student appears to have made the transfers of increasing sums over time, with transfers ranging from $10 to $200.
The USU Board unanimously voted to suspend the student’s union membership via a circular motion last week. The student’s access to club accounts has been revoked.
“The USU is an organisation that prides itself on its sense of community. We have been shocked and appalled by these allegations,” said USU President Connor Wherrett.
“We received an assurance form [sic] the banks that they will in future abide strictly with the two-signature rule.” That rule requires club finances to be signed off by at least two executives.
If the investigation does not exonerate the student, the student may end up expelled from USU membership and stripped of any USU awards they may have received.
In addition, they may end up facing criminal charges.
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Sources on the USU Board have alleged that the student in question is 2019 USU Board candidate Christina (Tina) Lee.
Though many students were first introduced to Lee during her “Goodness me! It’s Tina Lee!” board campaign this year, her presence within the USU clubs and societies program spans several years. At the time of her campaign, she had been on the executive of nine clubs and societies.
Notably, Lee served as the treasurer of the Sydney University Medical Science Society and Sydney University Red Cross Society. She additionally held life membership of the Union, and was named USU Volunteer of the Year last year.
Lee did not respond to Honi’s repeated requests for comment.
Newtown Police Station failed to provide comment to Honi in time for publication. Likewise, it is unclear at this stage whether charges have been laid, and it is more likely that an investigation is still ongoing.
Given the circumstances at hand, it’s improbable that Lee would hypothetically be charged with embezzlement – that charge requires Lee, who held positions on a voluntary basis, to have been employed as a ‘clerk or servant’ of the USU (among other constraints). The maximum penalty for the crime of embezzlement is 10 years.
If Lee is to be alternately charged with committing fraud, the penalty is nonetheless 10 years. If any such charge is pressed, it will become Lee’s prerogative to either defend or plead to them.
This is not the first time prominent members of the USU have come under fire for abusing financial privileges and misusing student money
USU Board Directors were asked to return their Cabcharge cards back in 2015. Among them, Liam Carrigan took 27 cabs in January alone, costing the USU close to $500. Carrigan subsequently paid the debt in full after being censured by the Board.
In 2013, a KPMG audit revealed that an office-bearer of the Australian National University Student Association (ANUSA) embezzled $126,000 from ANUSA, the Interhall Sports Organisation and ANU Student Media, which publishes ANU student newspaper Woroni.
The University has been made aware of the police investigation and is awaiting NSW Police advice before proceeding.
“Any student found to be engaging in such behaviour may be in breach of our student code of conduct and subject to our discipline rule,” an official spokesperson told Honi.
The news comes after a number of USU club accounts were affected by the closure of the NAB branch in the Wentworth Building.