The <i>Herald</i> began its exposť on the operations of the Crime Commission last month.

The Herald began its exposť on the operations of the Crime Commission last month.

ONE of the state's most powerful investigative agencies is attempting to seize the mobile phones of two Herald journalists as it continues its legal feud with the Police Integrity Commission.

For the past 18 months the PIC has been investigating how the highly secretive and immensely powerful NSW Crime Commission goes about its business.

When the PIC announced it intended to hold a public inquiry, the crime commission took action in the Supreme Court to stop it. The matter is yet to go to a full hearing.

Yesterday the Herald journalists Linton Besser and Dylan Welch received a subpoena from the Crime Commission demanding they hand over mobile phones and SIM cards they have used over the past year and any other material relating to ''the Police Integrity Commission or any of its officers or staff''.

''I am disturbed by the scope of this subpoena,'' the Herald's editor-in-chief and publisher, Peter Fray, said. ''This is not a matter of national security or threat to life; this is an issue about public policy and the administration of justice. It is the last thing that should precipitate a witch-hunt for sources.'' The Crime Commission's demands stem from a recent Herald investigation that revealed the commission was sharing the proceeds of crime with organised crime figures, in effect cutting deals that allowed criminals to keep large chunks of their ill-gotten fortunes.

It also reported that the commission failed to adequately audit the assets of criminals it was acting against, meaning the state is potentially missing out on millions of dollars.

The Herald also revealed that the PIC had been investigating allegations that the crime commission had taken substantial amounts of seized criminal assets to pay for its own legal costs.

The PIC investigation also found irregularities, including the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to certain criminal lawyers for work that may have taken only several hours.

The PIC's confidential report also raised concern at ''the opportunities for misconduct'' within the commission. It recommended ''long-term'' changes in key areas

of the Crime Commission's operations to address large ''structural and cultural problems''.

When the acting head of the PIC, Jerrold Cripps, QC, informed the Crime Commission it intended holding a public inquiry into the commission's activities, the commission hired barrister Ian Temby, QC, the former head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and launched the first legal salvo.

Justice Monika Schmidt recently outlined the two bases for the commission's legal action. ''The first, its dissatisfaction with the PIC's decision to conduct further hearings in an ongoing investigation in public,'' she said. ''The second, its argument that the PIC has no statutory power to conduct one aspect of its investigation.''

The judge noted that the PIC's investigation had gone beyond examining the commission's practices ''to the point where the NSW Crime Commission has itself become a subject of investigation''.

Also taking separate legal action against the PIC are two senior crime commission officers, John Giorgiutti and Jonathan Spark, who oversee the confiscation of assets program.

The Crime Commission did not return the Herald's call. A spokeswoman for the PIC declined to comment.

The opposition police spokesman, Mike Gallacher, said: "Commissions investigating other commissions can't continue. If elected we'll need to sort this out.

"The current situation, whereby the NSW Crime Commission is under investigation by the Police Integrity Commission - who are themselves subject of an investigation by the Department of Public Prosecutions - is completely unacceptable.''

When the matter returns to court on March 29, the Crime Commission will have to find a new silk as Mr Temby has been appointed acting head of the Director of Public Prosecutions.