Ex-RSL president wins fraud appeal
A former NSW RSL president has had his fraud conviction quashed after a judge ruled he wasn't using the organisation's money on "French champagne and strip clubs."
Donald Rowe, 72, watched on from nearly 500 kilometres away as Sydney's District Court on Tuesday overturned his conviction for dishonestly charging thousands of dollars worth of phone and hotel bills to his corporate credit card.
Mr Rowe viewed the proceedings via audiovisual link from Armidale in northern NSW as Judge John Pickering upheld his appeal and said there was "no evidence" he had acted deceptively.
He was earlier this year found guilty of two counts of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception after he used his credit card to pay for a phone bill for four family members and a hotel room for his daughter over the Anzac Day long weekend in 2010.
However, Judge Pickering said he in fact acted honestly after all his expenses were submitted to the RSL.
"In my view there is no evidence of deception," Judge Pickering said.
The scandal sparked a NSW state government royal commission-style inquiry into the RSL after accusations of largesse and rorting of funds.
In her 700-page report, former NSW Supreme Court Justice Patricia Bergin SC found that the organisation had been: "compromised by a combination of sheer ineptitude and cronyism" and the "disreputable conduct of the long serving president, Mr Rowe."
Ms Bergin also recommended that Mr Rowe be referred to police for investigation.
In February, Magistrate Jennifer Atkinson found Mr Rowe, who served as state RSL president from 2003 to 2014, acted dishonestly after he ignored the organisation's guidelines that he was entitled to charge one mobile phone to his corporate credit card.
But Judge Pickering overturned the conviction on appeal because Mr Rowe's expenses had all been approved and paid by the RSL.
"Month after month, year after year, he submitted the bill," Judge Pickering said.
Mr Rowe resigned in November 2014 after an internal accountant raised questions about his corporate credit card use.
The state government inquiry heard that he resigned, after RSL NSW honorary treasurer Roderick White issued him with an ultimatum that he submit to a forensic examination of his expenses or step down.
He was subsequently charged with misusing his credit card to pay phone bills for his wife and three children worth $9069 between September 2012 and November 2014.
He was also alleged to have used his card to pay for his daughter's stay at Sydney's Hyde Park Inn in 2010 worth $363.
The prosecution alleged Mr Rowe was aware of his entitlements as state president and what was allowable, yet still charged them to his credit card.
But Judge Pickering said it was "within the realms of consideration" that he thought they were reasonable expenses given he spent a large amount of time away from his family.
"He wasn't buying French champagne or going to strip clubs - it was linked with his business," Judge Pickering said.
He also said it was unfair to confront Mr Rowe about the allegations several years later and accuse him of impropriety when they could have brought them to his attention earlier.
Mr Rowe declined to comment to News Corp Australia when contacted through his lawyers.
Originally published as Ex-RSL president wins fraud appeal