Bruce Lehrmann: Taylor Auerbach claims Seven paid for drugs, massages before Spotlight interview

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A former Seven producer has claimed in a bombshell affidavit that the network covered Bruce Lehrmann’s costs for sex workers, illegal drugs, a round of golf and tomahawk steaks as part of an attempt to woo him for an exclusive interview.

Ex-Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach was a producer who was instrumental in setting up a series of exclusive interview with Mr Lehrmann following the collapse of his criminal trial.

However Mr Auerbach has now turned on his former employer and become a witness in Mr Lehrmann’s blockbuster defamation lawsuit against Network 10 and Lisa Wilkinson.

Justice Michael Lee was set to hand down his decision on the high-stakes case on Thursday in what was one of the most eagerly awaited legal judgments in recent memory.

However, after an 11th hour application by Network, Justice Lee on Tuesday night gave Network 10 permission to reopen its case in order to hear evidence from Mr Auerbach, who will take the stand on Thursday afternoon.

In a series of sworn affidavits tendered to the Federal Court, Mr Auerbach claims that Mr Lehrmann supplied the network with several pieces of evidence, including the AFP Statement of Facts in Mr Lehrmann’s criminal trial.

He further claims that the Spotlight program was provided with text messages between Ms Higgins, her ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway, and Ms Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons.

“The applicant provided me with other documents and information via my Seven email address to which I no longer have access to,” Mr Auerbach said in his affidavit.

“For example, I recall that the applicant emailed me a detailed chronology.”

Mr Lehrmann has previously denied providing documents or photographs to the program.

The former political staffer testified during the defamation trial that he only gave the network an interview.

Auerbach was a senior producer at Spotlight for two years from August 2021.

He said in his affidavit that his job ended in August 2023 at the expiry of his employment agreement and that “I made claim against Seven for psychological injury in which I settled on confidential terms.”

Mr Auerbach further claimed that he had evidence – in the form of photos and text messages – of other expenses paid for Seven for Mr Lehrmann’s benefit.

As part of his affidavit, Mr Auerbach produced a number of receipts and text messages which he alleges relate “to receipts of purchases incurred by me, and/or Seven directly, for the benefit of (Mr Lehrmann).”

According to Mr Auerbach’s affidavits, the network covered the cost of a $517 meal at Franca in Potts Point on January 5, 2023, a meal at Spice Temple in the CBD that cost $450 on January 6, and a $555 meal at Chophouse Restaurant on January 31.

A picture of a receipt from the Sydney steakhouse included $361 for a 1.9kg tomahawk steak and $48 worth of prawn toast, as well as other sides.

Seven also covered the costs of a meal between Mr Auerbach, Mr Llewellyn, Mr Lehrmann and his friend, former Liberal Party aide John Macgowan on December 18 in Bridport, Tasmania.

He said that Seven also covered the costs of a round of golf at Barnbougle, Tasmania worth $401.

He also said he had evidence in the form of receipts for approximately $10,000 worth of massages for Mr Lehrmann.

Mr Auerbach claimed in his affidavit that Seven also reimbursed Lehrmann for money for the cost of a visit to a brothel and drugs in January 2023. However he said he said he no longer had copies of the invoice.

“I recall that monies paid by the applicant for illicit drugs and prostitutes that evening at the Meriton and the following evening at a brothel in Surry Hills were reimbursed to the applicant by Seven through ‘per diems’ via invoice emailed to Ms Louise Aquilina, Spotlight unit manager, in the days after the applicant’s departure from Sydney in early January,” the affidavit reads.

”I no longer have a copy of this invoice.”

In a statement Seven denied what it described as false and misleading claims by Auerbach.

“The claims in the affidavits are being presented unchallenged,” a spokesperson said.

“Seven has never revealed its source or sources and has no intention of doing so. Seven notes Mr Lehrmann’s court testimony last year that he was not the source. Furthermore, Seven did not condone or authorise the alleged payments to Mr Lehrmann referred to in the affidavits.

“As has been previously reported, the person involved admitted to the misuse of a Seven corporate card and all unauthorised expenses were immediately reimbursed. Seven notes that these proceedings remain before the court.”

Mr Auerbach also said that Mr Lehrmann was provided with accommodation at a Randwick house which was leased in Mr Auerbach’s name.

During the trial the court heard that Mr Lehrmann was given a year’s worth of rent in exchange for the exclusive interview.

Mr Auerbach said he had receipts for further accommodation for Mr Lehrmann at a Randwick house from March 3 to 24 worth over $11,000.

Mr Auerbach claimed that he had: “deleted most of the material in my possession concerning the applicant prior to leaving Seven at the request of (Spotlight executive producer Mark) Llewellyn and Seven’s lawyers.

“The only material that has remained in my possession have been photographs on my phone or documents that had been saved to my iCIoud,” he said.

Mr Auerbach’s claims have yet to be tested in court. He will be subject to cross-examination in the witness box on Thursday.

On Easter Sunday, Network Ten filed an interlocutory application to reopen its case to call evidence from Mr Auerbach.

He was dragged into the saga after news.com.au reported that “two Thai masseuses were booked – one for Mr Lehrmann and another for a Seven employee” in the early hours of November 26, 2022.

It prompted Mr Lehrmann to issue a statement, describing the allegation as “an untrue and bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-Network Seven producer”.

Mr Auerbach threatened to sue Mr Lehrmann over the statement and sent a concerns notice.

In the notice, Mr Auerbach’s solicitor said Mr Lehrmann’s statement had conveyed a defamatory imputation that “Taylor Auerbach lied to the press about Bruce Lehrmann being bought a massage by a Seven Network employee”.

Following a late hearing on Tuesday, Justice Lee said it was “increasingly clear” there was fresh material that would delay his planned delivery of judgment in the defamation case on Thursday.

“The short point is I would give leave to reopen (the case),” he said.

Mr Auerbach will be called to give evidence at 2.15pm on Thursday, with judgment on the defamation claim now expected next week.

Mr Lehrmann is suing Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Ms Higgins which aired on The Project in February 2021.

During the broadcast, Ms Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted by a former colleague inside Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in Parliament House after a night out drinking in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

Lehrmann was not named by Ten but he claims he was nevertheless identifiable.

Mr Lehrmann has maintained he did not have sexual intercourse with Ms Higgins after they travelled together back to Parliament House.

He claims he was defamed by the broadcast, despite it not naming him.

Mr Lehrmann stood trial in the ACT Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to sexually assaulting Ms Higgins, but the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.

The charges were subsequently dropped by the Director of Public Prosecutions due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health before Mr Lehrmann sued Network 10 and Ms Wilkinson in the Federal Court.