Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Cabinet minister police sex probe

Senior Victorian state cabinet minister Theo Theophanous has stood down pending the results of a police investigation into an allegation that he sexually assaulted a young female worker at Parliament House.

A detective from the police sexual crimes squad flew to Greece this year to interview the woman, who had complained of a serious sexual assault by Mr Theophanous.

Police sources said the alleged incident had occurred about 1999, when the woman was in her early 20s, and Parliament had been told of the investigation about two weeks ago.

The sources said several people in Victoria had since been interviewed, telephone records had been seized and a brief was being prepared for the Office of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Theophanous, flanked by his wife Rita and son Harry, last night proclaimed his innocence.

"I have no case to answer," he said. "I know that I have done nothing wrong."

Police yesterday confirmed to Mr Theophanous that they had conducted interviews about the complaint and indicated they were likely to question him soon.

Mr Theophanous, the Minister for Industry, Trade and Major Projects in Victoria, said he had decided to contact police because of "a series of rumours over the past week or so".

He telephoned Victorian Premier John Brumby yesterday to tell him he would stand down as a cabinet minister and seek leave from Parliament until police had resolved the matter.

At a hastily convened media conference in his ministerial office at 5.50pm, Mr Theophanous read a statement but refused to answer questions.

He said that although police had not told him the nature of the complaint, he had decided to stand down from cabinet to protect the Government's good name.

"I have always conducted myself with the highest degree of probity and professionalism and I hold dear the principles of ministerial responsibility and accountability," he said.

"I know that my decision to stand down will come as a shock to my extended family, my friends and to the community that supports me.

"I know they will be concerned about me and about my family, and I want to assure them that I have no case to answer.

"But I equally believe that I have a responsibility as a minister in such a successful Government to act with complete propriety and to step aside until this matter is resolved.

"Even though I know that I have done nothing wrong, the test for ministers in a government is rightly high. I believe in this. I am aware of my responsibility to protect the Government and the work that this Government has done for all Victorians."

Mr Theophanous, 60, who was born in Cyprus and has four children, asked the media to respect his and his family's privacy as they "work through this issue".

Mr Brumby said last night he had accepted Mr Theophanous' decision to stand down, adding it would be inappropriate for him to comment further as the matter was in the hands of police.

Police said last night they could not comment on the case. "It's not appropriate for Victoria Police to identify an individual under investigation until such time as they have been formally charged," a spokeswoman said.

Under an agreement that Parliament be informed of inquiries relating to MPs, police told Parliament about two weeks ago that a matter was being investigated and that police might be around the building interviewing people.

In 2005, Mr Theophanous faced an allegation that he had sexually harassed a female parliamentary worker.

The then premier, Steve Bracks, summoned Mr Theophanous for an explanation after rumours were reported that Mr Theophanous had harassed a junior parliamentary attendant by repeatedly asking her out.

Mr Bracks accepted the minister's denial of the allegations.

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