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Leaked memo alleges lavish travel spending at auDA

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, 17:18:50 (UTC), Domain Registries

A report into .au registry auDA’s historical travel expenses has leaked to the Australian media, the latest apparent salvo in the organization’s increasingly personal civil war.

The Sydney Morning Herald this evening reports on “allegations of lavish spending and misuse of expense accounts by some former directors and employees”.

The primary individual targeted (for want of a better word) by the story is Paul Szyndler, former head of public affairs at auDA and one of the three people behind the Grumpier.com.au campaign to ouster auDA’s current CEO and chair.

It seems the Herald has managed to scoop a leaked copy of an audit compiled by PPB Advisory, which has been looking into spending practices at auDA under its previous management.

The existence of this report has been known for some time, but little about its contents had made it into the public domain beyond a slide deck (pdf) alluding to slack controls on travel expenditure.

The newspaper reports that PPB claims Szyndler racked up several thousand dollars of expenses on a family trip to Disneyland to coincide with ICANN 51 in Los Angeles in 2014.

Shortly before the Herald published (overnight in Australia), Szyndler took to an Aussie domainer forum to admit the truth of the allegation, but explain that it was fully compliant with auDA’s expenses policy at the time.

“auDA had a very clear and well understood policy at the time, whereby staff — after receiving best-available business class airfare and accommodation quotes, could spend up to, but NOT MORE THAN that figure on personal arrangements,” Szyndler wrote.

“My family joined me on a number of international trips. None cost any more than it would have cost to send me alone,” he said.

In other words, if he’d left his family at home and skipped Disneyland, he would have spent the exact same amount on a business-class flight for himself.

The Herald also says that PPB identified thousands of dollars being spent on family member travel to exotic locations, credit card cash withdrawals, expensive restaurants and even a “butler service”.

It does not say which specific staffers or directors are alleged to have spent auDA money on those things.

Indeed, Szyndler is the only person connected to specific spending in the Herald’s report.

There’s no mention of any allegations against former CEO and current ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain — under whose watch these expenses will have been incurred — though the piece does include his blanket denial of wrongdoing.

auDA’s new chair Chris Leptos — who also sits on the PPB board — revealed last week that “several” former directors have been referred to state police over “a number of practices” upon which he did not elaborate.

Szyndler and his other Grumpier auDA members have managed to rack up enough signatures on their petition to force auDA into a special members meeting, date to be determined, that will vote on whether to get rid of Leptos, CEO Cameron Boardman and two other independent directors.

The Australian government has also been probing the organization’s antics since October, and the Herald reports that its findings could be published as soon as tomorrow (today in Australia).

Could auDA be about to get Nominetted?

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Comments (6)

  1. Just wondering: is the .AU ccTLD operated by an australian company?

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      If you’re talking about the back-end, then it’s operated by Aussie subsidiary of a US company and is transitioning to an Aussie subsidiary of an “Irish” company.

  2. Snoopy says:

    So far auDA has done nothing at all to address member concerns about the organisation, in particular the .AU proposal. The only thing we have had is mud flinging at former management.

  3. Thank you for the balanced write up, Kevin.

    As you have noted, the main source for the news story was a leaked version of the PPB Advisory report – one of the most “Top Secret” documents in the auDA archive and one that was only available to the auDA Board and Senior Executive.

    The fact that it has been leaked to media is a very serious breach.

    I will survive – even though any future employer will be served up this tripe if they Google my name. Mission accomplished.

    But the bigger question is: do Australian Internet stakeholders want people that would stoop to such depths running the .au namespace into the future?

  4. anonymouse says:

    Strike 2 for auDA

    https://www.theage.com.au/technology/web-agency-not-fit-for-purpose-government-review-finds-20180417-p4za3u.html

    The company charged with administering millions of Australian internet domain name registrations faces the axe if it can not undertake significant reform, following a months-long review of its operations.

    A review into the administration of the .au top-level domain, the findings of which will be released by the Turnbull government on Wednesday, found that the company’s membership model and lack of checks and balances had impeded its decision making and made it unstable.

  5. Hendo says:

    The members have been calling for the PPB report to be published for the last year. Now we get a look at some of it’s contents, albeit through a leak. The genie is out of the bottle. What do you expect?

    Paul Szyndler has no excuses for his actions. He worked for auda for 9 years and travelled the world at the expense of registrants. Josh Rowe was on the board as well and had to sign off on the accounts every year and was well aware of the spending in auda. Spending 3000 dollars on lunch is not acceptable.

    Let’s hope we get to see the full PPB report soon. When the police have finished their investigation it will have to be released to the public.

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