‘It sounds like a bribe to me’: 7-Eleven accused of buying witnesses By Cara Waters 22 June 2018 Convenience store chain 7-Eleven has been accused of paying witnesses to not give evidence at the parliamentary inquiry into franchising. At the inquiry’s public hearings in Melbourne on Friday, franchisee Paresh Davaria, who is a member of the 7-Eleven franchisee’s association, told the inquiry he was not the first choice to speak at the inquiry. “Until yesterday afternoon, one of the association’s leaders was scheduled to speak at the Senate inquiry,” Mr Davaria said. “You can see him listed in today’s program but he is not here today. None of the association leaders are here today as every single one of them has been bought out by 7-Eleven. "I did not think in this country it was legal to buy the silence of a witness scheduled to give evidence. It sounds like a bribe to me and contempt of parliament.” As reported exclusively by Fairfax Media on Friday morning, Mr Davaria told the inquiry 7-Eleven paid leaders of the association to exit their franchises in the last three days, partly in return for them agreeing to refuse to testify at the inquiry. The amount paid by 7-Eleven to the franchisees under the deal was not disclosed. A spokesperson for 7-Eleven said the allegations were "absolute nonsense". "We respect the right of our franchisee partners to participate in the inquiry,” the spokesperson said. Senator Deborah O’Neill told the inquiry the allegations of witnesses being bought were “quite extraordinary”. “People will not believe this is happening in Australia at this point in time,” she said. “In the time I have been on this committee I cannot recall a situation where the secretariat has received a flurry of phone calls within 24 hours about the withdrawal of witnesses.” Parliamentary resolutions forbid interference with witnesses "by fraud, intimidation, force or threat of any kind" or any influence in respect of any evidence to be given or to induce someone not to give the evidence. The resolutions also forbid the molestation of witnesses, which includes to "inflict any penalty or injury upon, or deprive of any benefit". Interference or molestation of witnesses is a criminal offence under the Parliamentary Privileges Act and penalties include fines or imprisonment. Senator O’Neill told Fairfax Media the committee will meet following the receipt of the evidence formally next week and will determine a course of action and wouldn’t be surprised if it went to the privilege committee. “This was not any ordinary day of taking evidence from witnesses,” she said. “It would seem to me that the scale of the level of intimidation revealed today is a matter for careful consideration.” Former 7-Eleven franchisee Biramjit Singh also gave evidence to the hearing. Mr Singh said 7-Eleven’s franchise system is based on the exploitation of migrant franchisees. “The only person in this system who makes money is the 7-Eleven head office,” he said. “They are bullies, they act like dictators, it is a pure Mafia the way they operate. The absence of the witnesses is further proof of how they can buy out and threaten people who go against them.” 7-Eleven has faced allegations of systemic wage fraud. Senator Deborah O\'Neill is the deputy chair of the franchise inquiry.