A contender for the NSW Australian of the Year awards rorted more than half a million dollars in public funds while she was in charge of two publicly funded community health organisations, a corruption inquiry has been told.
Eman Sharobeem allegedly used the money to pay for holidays, gym memberships, jewellery, furniture and luxury goods for her family.
The accusations were among a series of damning allegations aired on the first day of an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into Sharobeem’s time as the chief executive officer of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service (IWHS) and the Non-English Speaking Housing Women’s Scheme (NESH) for more than a decade.
The ICAC would also detail evidence of how Sharobeem lied about her academic qualifications, including two PhD degrees and a masters degree, to promote her career, and treat IWHS clients.
“Ms Sharobeem does not hold a doctorate nor is she registered to practice as a psychologist. She has never completed a masters degree,” counsel assisting ICAC Ramesh Rajalingam said in his opening address on Monday.
“Ultimately it is contended that Ms Sharobeem used her false qualifications to promote herself publicly and also in applications to funding bodies to receive funds on behalf of IWHS.”
A finalist in NSW’s Local Hero category of the awards in 2015 and an Australia Day ambassador, Sharobeem also used the fake qualifications to gain appointments with the Community Relations Commission and Anti-Discrimination Board, he said.
“Jewellery was purchased, furniture, holidays and holiday club memberships were paid for, hair and beauty treatments were reimbursed to Ms Sharobeems on a regular basis, and also clothes and food,” Mr Rajalingam told the inquiry.
IWHS admin staff were allegedly pressured to grossly exaggerate the number of people who used the service from as far back as 2004 – when Sharobeem first started working with the group.
In one instance, a group referred to as ‘finance problems’ was changed from one attendee to 828, according to the annual report for 2012-2013.
The inquiry heard Sharobeem used the organisation’s funds to pay for $51,192 in renovations at her Fairfield home, which she initially bought for $660,000 and later sold for $1.3 million.
The ICAC discovered regular reimbursements from IWHS for personal expenses, including more than $41,000 on jewellery, $19,000 on hair and beauty treatments, cosmetics or dental work and $18,000 at department stores such as Myer and David Jones.
“Additionally, Ms Sharobeem used a credit card and or credit card account issued to the IWHS to make annual payments for memberships with Fitness First, Lite n Easy, and Foxtel for the benefit of either herself or family members,” Mr Rajalingam said.
The ICAC heard Sharobeem’s two sons benefited from the rorting as she regularly authorised payments to their accounts, while $18,000 in NESH funds were used to pay off a Mercedes-Benz for her husband.
Outside the inquiry and flanked by her husband and sons, Ms Sharobeem refused to comment on the allegations.
The Egyptian-born says she was child bride survivor forced into an arranged marriage to her first cousin as a teenager.
The inquiry, which is expected to run for two weeks, will hear from more than 20 witnesses including Sharobeem and her family.
Until recently, Ms Sharobeen was National Community Engagement Manager at SBS.