Strata contracts link Auburn’s mayor Le Lam to another councillor’s development

Le Lam … declined to comment. Photo: Andrew MearesThe mixed-up world of local politics and development in Auburn is even smaller than previously known.

The Herald has learnt that the mayor of Auburn, Le Lam, is paid to manage the strata for a development built by her current council ally and former mayor Cr Ronney Oueik​.

That’s a link she has never disclosed, despite recently voting on a development proposal that would have financially benefited Cr Oueik.

The former mayor confirmed his company had awarded the contract to Combined Real Estate, a company directed jointly by Cr Lam and her brother-in-law Minh Hua.

“My manager gave the job to Minh,” he said. “But that was six years ago [when the project finished]”.

It is not known how much money the contract is worth to Cr Lam; she said she was not involved in the company’s strata management division. But the building’s strata levy is believed to run to $1600 a year. It has 40 apartments.

But Cr Oueik denied the mayor should have declared any potential conflict of interest.

“Let me tell you about the council and how it works,” he said. “All jobs over 20 million [in value go to a state government panel for approval, not council]. All of my jobs are nothing less than 20”.

But in September, Cr Lam voted with her colleagues to approve Mr Oueik’s bid to modify plans for a 100-apartment complex.

The new plans allowed him to convert one penthouse into four extra two-storey units.

Cr Oueik denied the development was financially significant and said he intended to live in one of the apartments himself.

He paid the council about $1 million as a development contribution in exchange for approval, a not uncommon practice.

Cr Oueik is not the only councillor whose developments have awarded the mayor’s company a potentially lucrative strata contract.

Earlier this week, a court heard Cr Lam’s Combined Real Estate was the party responsible for managing a development built by her controversial colleague Salim Mehajer.

A cleaner, Anping Yan, appeared in court on Wednesday to claim he was owed up to $25,000 by Cr Mehajer for a backlog of cleaning work on two projects on John Street in Lidcombe.

Cr Mehajer’s defence highlighted just how close business relationships are on the council. He told the cleaner to re-direct his suit to a company owned by Cr Lam, who managed contractors.

Developers can use a controlling stake in a strata executive committee to appoint a building’s property manager.

Mr Yan refused to drop the suit and said Cr Mehajer had regularly handed him cheques and acted as his boss. The matter returns to court in February.

At the last council meeting the mayor voted to bestow the honorary title of “emeritus mayor” upon Cr Oueik.

The mayor’s brother-in-law and business partner, Mr Hua, has also previously been in business with Cr Mehajer. The two jointly run a company that is currently in liquidation. Cr Lam has previously said she was unaware her brother-in-law and council colleague had a business relationship.

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