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Former Coles employee charged with theft and deception

A former Coles employee accused of stealing more than $1.9 million from the supermarket giant has been charged with “multiple thefts and deceptions”.

Victoria police arrested 36-year-old Aaron Baslangic, former head of strategic initiatives and B2B for Coles Online, on Friday in Sandringham in Melbourne’s southeast.

Coles alleges that the ex-staffer submitted phoney invoices requesting payment to third parties, and in some cases faked the approval of his supervisor for payments that were above his authority limit.

Coles filed documents with the Supreme Court of Victoria over the last two weeks detailing 13 questionable payments made to BMW Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and other businesses. The amounts ranged from $48,000 to $413,139.

A statement from Victoria Police on the arrest said the alleged offending took place over a five month period between February and July 2019 against “a business in Hawthorn East”, the location of Coles head office. 

“A 36-year-old Sandringham man was charged with multiple thefts and deceptions for a very large sum of money,” the statement read.

Coles said it first discovered the questionable transactions during a review of payments prior to its migration to a new platform.

“Irregularities were detected by our internal finance checks and we promptly obtained a freezing order from the Victorian Supreme Court,” a spokesperson for Coles told Inside FMCG.

The transactions in question raised concerns as some were unsupported by invoices, while some were supported by invoices sent from a personal email address for Baslangic.

Five of the 13 payments in questions were for amounts above Baslangic’s personal authority limit of $75,000 and required approval of his line manager Karen Donaldson, general manager of Coles Online.

While Baslangic indicated to the accounts team via emails that he had received her approval, Donaldson said in an affidavit that she had no prior knowledge of those emails and did not approve the payments.

The accused will appear at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on August 13.

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