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16.8.09

MELBOURNE'S Victoria University has been rocked by allegations that a law lecturer solicited and received bribes in the form of sexual favours and money from some female Asian international students, offering in return to improve their marks.

Before police could interview him the 46-year-old is believed to have taken his own life, apparently overdosing on prescription drugs at his home at Footscray in Melbourne's inner west.

The Australian understands police were preparing a brief including 10 bribery charges when they contacted the man in early May. They asked him to go to a police station and recommended he take a lawyer. Two days after the call he was found dead.

His death and the bribery allegations have shocked colleagues at the university, where he had taught for several years.

There are suggestions that the man, who is said to have been divorced, had suffered severe financial losses in the fallout from the global financial crisis.

"I was shocked and bewildered," a former colleague told The Australian. "He was a great colleague."

It is believed the university uncovered the allegations in December and immediately referred them to police. The man was immediately stood down but staff were merely told he had resigned. They were later told he had died.

It is understood the Asian students themselves were never considered suspects in the investigation, instead being treated as victims.

The man was a subject co-ordinator in the Faculty of Business and Law and was based at the university's Footscray campus, where he taught law subjects to students studying accountancy and business -- subjects in high demand among international students.

The university has refused to comment, citing privacy reasons.

"The university has processes in place that ensure that any allegations that are made, that could constitute criminal conduct, are referred to the police," the university's senior deputy vice-chancellor, John McCallum, said in a statement.

Police are preparing a brief for the coroner.

"At this stage we have received a report of his death, an investigation is under way, but there has yet to be a determination," said a spokeswoman for the State Coroner's Office.

The revelation comes at a sensitive time for Australia's university sector, which is already bracing for a downturn in international student demand next year following sensationalised reporting in India of assaults against Indian students.

Ongoing reports of instances of student exploitation and fraud in the visa-driven training sector are also tarnishing Australia's education reputation.

International student representatives yesterday said there was no evidence that solicitation of bribes was a problem at Australian universities, given a lack of complaints.

"I've never heard of any such complaints," said Douglas Tsoi, executive officer at the Australian Federation of International Students. Gautam Gupta, of the Federation of Indian Students of Australia, said while he had heard complaints of some private training colleges trying to solicit bribes from students to upgrade marks or falsify attendance records, no such complaints had been aimed at universities.

Sally Varnham, an associate professor of law at University of Technology Sydney, said bribery had not figured in a research project into student complaints she had worked on earlier this year for the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. "As far as I am aware there hasn't been any problem," she said.

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