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CommInsure assessor accused of inflating repair cost in return for 'gift'

The Fair Work Commission has dismissed an application for relief from unfair dismissal by a former Commonwealth Insurance motor assessor, who was terminated for “serious misconduct” last year over an undeclared transfer of $500 to his bank account.

Commissioner Michelle Bissett ruled “the weight of evidence” supports a “conclusion of an inappropriate connection” between Omar Katrib and the payment, which was made soon after he raised sharply the repair cost estimate for a third-party car that was involved in a collision claim assigned to him.

MJ Auto, the workshop that was to have carried out the repairs, had estimated it would cost $3734.50 to rectify the damages but the assessment from Mr Katrib was significantly higher, at $6965.65.

Days after Mr Katrib finalised his assessment in January last year, the $500 transfer to his personal account was made with the description “Transfer from … Ahmad Al Lakiss CommBank a gift”. Mr Lakiss is the owner of MJ Auto.

Mr Katrib was dismissed months later, in August, after CommInsure investigated the matter and concluded “on the balance of probabilities” that his actions had breached the company’s Code of Conduct.

While there was no “direct evidence” to link the payment to Mr Katrib’s actions to raise the repair quote, Commissioner Bissett says “the transfer of money has the hallmarks of inappropriate conduct even though it may appear to be on a small scale”.

“Having found that there was a valid reason for dismissal and that [Mr Katrib] was not denied procedural fairness, I am satisfied that the dismissal of [Mr Katrib] was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable,” Commissioner Bissett ruled.

“The application for relief from unfair dismissal is therefore dismissed.”

Mr Katrib lodged his case with the Fair Work Commission after he failed to settle at conciliation with CommInsure. The insurer became aware of the higher repair quote made by Mr Katrib after it undertook a detailed audit of the claim and also found he failed to disclose the $500 transfer to his account.

He told his former employer he raised the repair estimate to allow for a “complete job”. He says he inspected the vehicle and found other damage that was not accounted for in the original quote from MJ Auto.

Mr Katrib says he did not declare the payment from the owner of MJ Auto as he was not expecting it. He claims Mr Lakiss owed his brother-in-law $500, who in turn owed him the same amount, and that the transfer was for the repayment of the debt.

He says his brother-in-law, who had borrowed $500 from him to pay for his children’s school fees, had only told him to expect a payment through a bank transfer. It was not mentioned to him that the transfer would come from Mr Lakiss.

Mr Katrib says he has no idea why Mr Lakiss described the payment as a “gift” when he made the funds transfer and denied knowing he was the owner of MJ Auto.

He provided to the Fair Work Commission statutory witness statements from Mr Lakiss and his brother-in-law to support his case. His brother-in-law says Mr Lakiss owed him $500 for some tyres he had supplied to MJ Auto and that he had provided the account details of Mr Katrib for the payment to be made. The payment represented what he had borrowed from Mr Katrib to pay for his children’s school fees and that he decided on this option to “eliminate money jumping around to different accounts”.

But Commissioner Bissett in her ruling says she has little regard to the evidence given by the brother-in-law and that the statement from Mr Lakiss “contains no detail” that would assist in the resolution of the contested issues.

“The reliability of each of these statutory declarations is further diminished as they were written after, as [Mr Katrib] said in evidence, ‘we all spoke together about it and worked out what had happened’ in September 2020,” Commissioner Bissett said.

Click here for the ruling.