Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has defended a Liberal candidate and former police officer who admitted before an inquiry to having socialised with a notorious drug dealer.

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Ray King, the Liberal candidate in the Sydney seat of McMahon, gave evidence before the Wood Royal Commission in 1996.

He told the commission he was off duty when spotted with heroin dealer Salvatore “Sammy” Lapa.

While the final report by Justice James Wood found a number of “inappropriate associations” between police and clubs in Sydney’s western suburbs, no adverse findings were made against Mr King.

He faced no criminal proceedings.

Mr Abbott told reporters in Melbourne he stood by Mr King, who after the Wood inquiry went on to be promoted three times and became the local commander in Liverpool.

“He certainly was before the Wood Royal Commission back in the mid-90s, as so many NSW policemen were,” Mr Abbott said.

“No adverse findings were made against him and that’s the key thing.”

Mr Abbott described Mr King as a “very highly respected policeman” who served the country with distinction.

“I’m very proud to have him as our candidate,” Mr Abbott said.

Mr King is standing against Treasurer Chris Bowen in the seat, which Labor holds by a margin of almost eight per cent.

Liberal Party NSW state director Mark Neeham told Fairfax Media that Mr King had been interviewed by the party’s nomination review committee and determined to be a fit and proper person to be a candidate.

Mr King has defended his record as a police officer after his appearance at the commission more than 16 years ago.

“There were no adverse findings against me and my service in the NSW Police continued with distinction,” he said in a statement.

“I was later promoted to Inspector and went on to become Superintendent of Cabramatta, Fairfield and Liverpool local area commands.”

A spokeswoman for Mr King said he wouldn’t comment further.

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