ICAC witness John Caputo pulls out of CDP campaign launch after Liberal Party finds out

Power couple: the Reverend Fred Nile at his wedding with Silvana Nero last year. Photo: James Alcock Quit as MC: John Caputo, after appearing before the ICAC in April. Photo: Rob Homer

After failing in her bid to enter federal Parliament last year, Christian Democratic Party candidate Silvana Nero has been busy preparing for an assault on the seat of Wakehurst, held by NSW Attorney-General Brad Hazzard, in next year’s state election. The CDP’s northern beaches campaign will be launched by Ms Nero – the wife of upper house MP the Reverend Fred Nile – at a modest $35-a-head fund-raiser at Dee Why RSL on Friday night. But the campaign has suffered a casualty even before it has been launched: the master of ceremonies for the evening, Liberal fund-raiser John Caputo, has been forced to pull out after the Liberal party state director Tony Nutt found out. A former mayor of Warringah, Mr Caputo is a committee member of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s federal electoral conference and vice-president of Premier Mike Baird’s state electoral conference. Mr Caputo made headlines earlier this year after giving evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s investigation into alleged Liberal party slush funds used to hide political donations from banned donors, including property developers. In April, Mr Caputo told the ICAC he had handed over thousands of dollars’ worth of cheques from a March 2011 Liberal party fund-raiser to former energy minister Chris Hartcher, who is accused of being the mastermind behind the slush funds. Mr Caputo, who strenuously denies any wrongdoing, agreed that this was not normal fund-raising practice. On Wednesday, Mr Nile said Mr Caputo had agreed to MC the CDP campaign launch because he was “a family friend of the Neros”. “Silvana has been a friend of his for 15 years,” Mr Nile said. Mr Caputo confirmed that Ms Nero “is a friend and she asked me to do it. I’m happy to do it”. But when contacted, the NSW Liberal Party appeared to have no idea about the arrangement. Within minutes of being asked for its view, a spokeswoman for Mr Nutt called back to deliver the bad news. “Mr Caputo is not attending the event,” she said, leaving Ms Nero and the CDP searching for a new MC –  and Mr Caputo at a loose end on Friday night.

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