Childcare operators accused of ‘fake child’ fraud are demanding millions from AFP after the case was dropped

Ouda and Shehada were not named at the press conference, but media reports of the arrest, including by , have identified the couple as suspected syndicate masterminds Age.

In his press conference, Hunter revealed the ages of the co-defendants and said the daycare was one of the largest applicants for subsidies in Australia.

AFP commander Todd Hunter at the November 2020 press conference.

AFP commander Todd Hunter at the November 2020 press conference.Credit:Nine messages

Ouda and Shehada were charged with conspiracy to dishonestly inflict loss on the federal government, but the case was later dropped when it went to court.

The couple recently filed a defamation lawsuit against Hunter and the Commonwealth of Australia in Victoria’s High Court, saying their reputations have been damaged by AFP.

They are seeking compensation for the destruction of their childcare business, which was worth more than $10 million and generated $2.5 million in annual profits, and greater damages for AFP’s conduct.

The Kuwait-born couple had business interests abroad which they say were harmed by the press conference, as well as a restaurant which now operates on a greatly reduced scale.

Amgad Shehada was a co-defendant who is also pursuing legal action.

Amgad Shehada was a co-defendant who is also pursuing legal action.Credit:Facebook

“The press conference was conducted for the sole or primary purpose of promoting AFP and enhancing the standing and reputation of certain … members of AFP, including Hunter,” their complaint reads.

“There was otherwise no legitimate forensic need or purpose for holding the press conference.”

The couple allege that there was no reasonable basis for the allegations and that AFP should have known that subsidies could be sought without children going to childcare for days off.

They also allege that much of the evidence collected by the AFP was gathered while childcare centers were receiving business continuity payments from the government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AFP officers searched properties as part of the investigation, which was later dropped.

AFP officers searched properties as part of the investigation, which was later dropped.Credit:AFP

This included paying the centers 50 percent of their weekly pre-pandemic earnings, regardless of the number of children attending.

“Whether or not children attended childcare facilities on the days that AFP monitored was carried out was irrelevant to the funds made available,” the court documents said.

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“The defendants should have known that there was nothing to the allegations.”

In its defense document, AFP said it was free to publish the words of the press conference under a qualified privilege that protects communications between certain parties.

AFP also relies on a defense of honest opinion and that Hunter believed the material provided to him during the investigation was essentially true.

Rose Rocca, Ouda and Shehada’s lawyer, said AFP’s actions have had a serious impact on the lives of their clients and their children.

“The special damages are significant and could total more than $9 million based on the expert evidence we have received,” she said.

“Assuming we succeed in doing so, we anticipate an order for increased damages, which means the general damages are not limited, and again, in these circumstances, we would expect many millions of dollars of general damages.”

One of the five people accused by AFP.

One of the five people accused by AFP.Credit:AFP

AFP made no comment except to confirm the charges were dropped.

Age complied with a request from Ouda and Shehada to have his original story removed when he was informed of the outcome of the investigation.

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https://www.smh.com.au/national/victoria/childcare-operators-accused-of-fake-children-fraud-seek-millions-from-afp-after-case-is-dropped-20230112-p5cc5t.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_national Childcare operators accused of ‘fake child’ fraud are demanding millions from AFP after the case was dropped

Callan Tansill

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