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Former RSL NSW boss charged with fraud

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Following a two-year investigative probe into financial mismanagement, the former RSL NSW State President has been charged with fraud.

Don Rowe met with detectives at Armidale Police Station on Wednesday morning to be charged with two counts of dishonesty obtaining financial disadvantage by deception. He is due to face Downing Local Court on March 7.

The current State President, James Brown, said it is “important” that he was charged.

“This charging and the court case that will follow will be a painful reminder of what has happened but we’re very confident now that we’re starting to put this experience behind us and to make sure it can never happen again,” Brown told reporters in Sydney.

Brown said RSL NSW had previously been operating fundraising systems that were “100 years old and hadn’t changed much” but now had modern finances with proper policies and procedures.

The charity has been audited by a top-tier firm and worked with police, regulators, fundraising officials and the charities commission to ensure everything was “above board”, Brown said.

“This organisation has been scrubbed clean through that experience and we’re working very hard to make sure that it will stay that way in the future.”

Strikeforce Whitbread was set up in 2016 to investigate reports of misappropriation of funds within RSL NSW. Detectives have since conducted a massive forensic accounting analysis of the charity’s books, discovering more than $238,000 in stolen donations.

A two-year investigation by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission also found it was plagued by widespread misconduct and significant governance failures.

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The inquiry was established by the NSW government after an audit found $200,000 was withdrawn in cash and $475,000 from the corporate credit card to pay for family phone bills, mortgage, flights and meals during his 11-year reign as president, ending 2014.

Rowe told the inquiry he received an annual $20,000 car allowance, with most going to his mortgage. He also agreed that he used the RSL credit card to pay for family’s bills and flights. On one occasion he paid for his daughter to stay in a city hotel suite.

He told the inquiry in 2017 that he didn’t spend the organisation’s money on personal expenses deliberately: “I didn’t believe it was wrong. I accept now it was wrong.”

RSL NSW members late last year voted against a new constitution, which Brown said was the organisation’s best chance at restoring funding activities. The constitution would have increased transparency and efficiency and would have made legal compliances easier, but it was shut down 68 votes to 32.

Prior to the meeting, Brown wrote on Twitter: “The RSL NSW state council promised the public we would earn their trust back, promised our members that we would save the league for now and the future, and committed to get the league working harder for veterans and their families. We are delivering on that.”

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