Mr Cranston was allegedly caught in phone recordings on May 1, 2017, telling Mr Poulakis to get someone to talk to Plutus lawyer Dev Menon because the ATO freezing orders meant workers were not being paid and “the people are going to the bloody press“.
“I know it looks like a phoenix but it’s not, they can explain it – they’ve explained it to me,” he allegedly told Mr Poulakis.
Asked by Mr Cranston’s lawyer David Staehli SC whether such a situation was unusual once the son’s involvement was removed, Mr Poulakis said “I didn’t find that scenario surprising”.
“It’s unusual, complicating, that there seemed to be some sort of connection to the son,” he said, noting as soon as Mr Cranston mentioned his son “something triggered in my mind” about potential conflict of interest.
“I just wanted to hear what Michael was trying to say to me and work out what exactly needed to be done appropriately,” he said.
“Once I realised all Michael Cranston was asking me to do was to get the case manager to call the lawyer to receive information, the risk came down.”
‘Openness and honesty’
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr Cranston misled Mr Poulakis, including by omission, as part of its case that he “dishonestly obtained a benefit” for his son.
But Mr Poulakis said Mr Cranston’s mention of his son’s connection demonstrated “openness and honesty” and that it was not “overly relevant” to what he wanted.
Mr Staehli suggested that was because, ultimately, what harm could there be in getting a lawyer in contact with the ATO?
“That’s right,” Mr Poulakis said.
After Mr Cranston’s request, Mr Poulakis said he spoke to Mr Menon about “media sensitivity” and advised him he might have to “consider what he could do to keep the press on hold for a day”.
Mr Poulakis said he later found out the identity of the auditor, who operated under a pseudonym, and emailed her saying that Mr Menon had contacted Michael Cranston and she might want to “check options” with her superiors.
Earlier, former ATO assistant commissioner Scott Burrows gave evidence that he had raised conflict of interest concerns with Mr Cranston after the former deputy commissioner asked him to look into an audit of a business his son was “buying into”.
However, he said he “couldn’t recall” whether Mr Cranston said anything in response to those concerns.
Mr Burrows later searched the ATO’s computer system for information on the audit but was unable to access it because it was covert. He later told Mr Cranston the information was blocked.
The Crown is expected to finish its case on Wednesday morning following the screening of a video of Michael Cranston’s interview with police.
The defence is still contemplating whether to call Mr Cranston as a witness.
A juror in the case was also discharged on Tuesday so she could attend a family emergency overseas, leaving the jury with just 11 members.
“Perhaps any below that and I’d start to get worried,” Judge Robyn Tupman said.