Claims put Lebanese consul in new strife

THE embattled Lebanese consul-general in Sydney is being dragged into court again - this time after refusing to co-operate with authorities over claims of sexual harassment and unfair dismissal.

THE embattled Lebanese consul-general in Sydney is being dragged into court again - this time after refusing to co-operate with authorities over claims of sexual harassment and unfair dismissal.

Robert Naoum, pictured, is listed to appear in the Federal Magistrates Court tomorrow to face the claims by a former woman employee at the consul-general's office in Edgecliff.

The case is the latest twist in a saga that has engulfed the consul-general and his office during the past 18 months. Mr Naoum has been embroiled in legal action over a failed defamation case that resulted in him being forced to pay more than $50,000 in compensation and legal costs after his claims of diplomatic immunity failed. His office has also been named in an alleged dole scandal in which staff allegedly were paid in cash while receiving Centrelink benefits.

The current court action was started after Mr Naoum and his representatives refused to co-operate with the Fair Work Ombudsman as well as the Australian Human Rights Commission to deal with the allegations of harassment and unfair dismissal.

A spokesman for Mr Naoum last week said the consul-general could not comment on the case as it was before the courts.

But Mr Naoum has denied the allegations of harassment in a letter to the Human Rights Commission obtained by The Sun-Herald. The letter, dated September 2 last year, also stated that he acted in "compliance with the Lebanese regulation on local employees aboard" in relation to the dismissal and that the claims were an attempt to pressure the Lebanese government into a large payout.

However, Mr Naoum did not co-operate with attempts at conciliation by the commission and documents obtained under freedom of information laws by The Sun-Herald show that the consul-general did not comply with a formal "notice to produce records" issued by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The FOI documents reveal Mr Naoum tried to raise the issue with the federal government by sending a formal communication to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade only to be advised his office should "communicate directly" with the Ombudsman.

"The office further recommends that the consulate-general, should it not already have done so, engage local lawyers to advise on the application of Australian law to the matter," the department told him.

A Fair Work investigator unsuccessfully asked the consul-general to produce all records and documents relating to the woman's six-year employment including copies of her contract, pay slips, and details of any cash payments made as well as documents relating to her termination.

Instead of responding, however, the consul-general asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to intervene.

It is an offence not to comply with the Fair Work notice, punishable by a maximum penalty of $33,000 for a body corporate or $6,600 for an individual.

Last year, The Sun-Herald revealed the office of the consul-general had been referred to police over allegations staff in Sydney had been paid wages in cash while pocketing Centrelink payments. At the same time, the consul-general's office was not paying tax, superannuation or workers' compensation for locally hired staff.

The matter was referred to the police, Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office for investigation.

The Sun-Herald has since been given a list of the employees' names, the cash payments and government benefits they were allegedly pocketing.

A Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman has previously stated Australians employed by a foreign state were "entitled to minimum employment conditions, including wages, leave and safety conditions and protection" and must pay tax.

But the consul-general's office has previously confirmed it does not give staff statements of earnings nor does it deduct any tax on behalf of employees. A spokesman has also said they worked according to regulations of the Lebanese government, not to those imposed by the Australian government.

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