Prosecutors have dropped more than 500 charges against the alleged accomplice of corrupt WA public servant Paul Whyte, who over a decade defrauded taxpayers of around $22 million in what investigators labelled the nation's single biggest case of public sector fraud.
Jacob Daniel Anthonisz, 46, had been due to stand trial in the Supreme Court in July, but on Friday all 542 corruption charges were dropped after prosecutor Michael Cvetkoski revealed there had been a "breakdown in the understanding" with WA police of what was required to be presented as evidence in the case.
Mr Cvetkoski said WA police had asked for another 18 months to continue their investigations, but the state had considered it appropriate to discontinue the charges.
He described the situation as regrettable, but said the state would reassess the material gathered over the next year and a half before considering whether new charges should be laid.
Mr Cvetkoski said the case had been hampered by repeated staff changes in the police team assigned to investigate the case.
In the wake of the charges being dropped, Justice Joseph McGrath described the situation as "most unsatisfactory."
Police Commissioner Col Blanch has the defended the police's handling of the case, saying he was "committed" to continuing the investigation.
Australia's biggest bureaucratic corruption case
The allegations against Mr Anthonisz first came to light almost three-and-a-half years ago when he was charged with corruption along with Whyte, who was then a senior bureaucrat who had worked in the public sector for 37 years.
The men initially only faced two charges involving around only $2.5 million, but over the next few weeks as the investigation progressed, the amount blew out to around $25 million and the number of charges grew to more than 500.
The arrest of the men came after a secret Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) investigation that had started in August 2018, when a whistle-blower provided a tip-off about somebody's "questionable behavioural and lifestyle habits".
In a subsequent report to parliament, the CCC detailed how that single piece of information set in motion its inquiry that uncovered what it labelled Australia's biggest public servant corruption case.
In that report, Whyte was described as the "epitome of a successful senior public servant", who was respected by government ministers and "forged an impressive reputation."
Except, as the report stated, "it was all a lie".
Whyte had worked for various government agencies, including the Department of Communities that was responsible for some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable West Australians, while Mr Anthonisz was a physiotherapist.
It appeared the men had become friends through their strong interest in horse racing.
Whyte admitted his guilt almost immediately and in November 2021 he was sentenced to 12 years in jail, with the Supreme Court told the millions of dollars of public money were stolen over 11 years through an elaborate fake invoice scheme.
It involved three shelf companies, that had no employees, repeatedly submitting false invoices to Whyte's government departments.
The companies were not listed as official government contractors, but the invoices were approved by Whyte and the funds paid into accounts that Whyte and allegedly Mr Anthonisz were able to access.
The court was told Whyte spent the funds he received on an extravagant lifestyle that included the purchase of a riverside mansion and what was described by the judge as his "all-consuming" passion for horse racing.
Mr Anthonisz pleaded not guilty to every charge against him and had remained on bail as his case has made its way through the court system.
Because of its complexity, his trial was going to be heard by a judge sitting without a jury.
Mr Anthonisz did not make any comment as he left court arm in arm with his wife, who had been in tears as she sat in court listening to proceedings.
Mr Cvetkoski highlighted the enormity of the work that had already been done describing the case as "highly complex".
His barrister told the court if Mr Anthonisz was charged again, he would almost certainly apply to have proceedings put on hold permanently.
Police defend handling of case
Police Commissioner Col Blanch held a press conference on Friday afternoon where he defended WA Police's handling of the matter.
He said the information the prosecution was requesting from police was also being sought after by his own financial crimes squad.
"There are over nine detectives working around the clock to retrieve that information. I want to stress this case is very complex [with] tens of thousands of transactions."
Commissioner Blanch said the 18-month delay was due to the complex nature of the work involved to build the case.
"This is an unprecedented case … it does take a lot of time," he said.
Commissioner Blanch said there were concerns amongst investigators that Mr Anthonisz was now free to leave the country while the investigation continued.
He conceded there may have been a breakdown in communication between WA Police and the prosecution team and it was something he would investigate.
But he did not believe WA Police was to blame for the case falling over before Mr Anthonisz was able to be tried.
"I don't accept that at this time," he said. "I've spoken to the director of public prosecutions and that's something we'll work on together to ensure our communication going forward is the best it can be."