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Sunday, July 31, 2011
Bribes: firms to plead guilty, Seychelles name mentioned in the list!!
Myles Curtis, Former managing director of Securency.
TWO Reserve Bank currency firms are expected to become the first Australian companies to plead guilty to paying multimillion-dollar bribes to high-ranking foreign officials.
The planned guilty pleas come amid fresh revelations showing that some of the RBA polymer banknote firms' previous directors ignored legal advice and approved huge payments to tax haven accounts linked to overseas lobbyists and agents.
The Age can reveal that the full list of tax haven accounts used by Securency or Note Printing Australia between 1999 and 2009 is greater than previously reported and raises serious questions about the level of scrutiny applied by RBA-appointed board members.
The RBA companies wired more than $30 million to accounts - including several now alleged by police to have been used by middlemen to pay bribes - in Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Belgium, the Seychelles, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey, the Bahamas, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
The Age can also reveal that the RBA companies recently held discussions with lawyers and are planning to plead guilty to paying kickbacks to senior central bank officials in Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia between 1999 and 2005.
NPA and Securency, which are respectively fully and half-owned and supervised by the Reserve Bank, are understood to be still finalising the details of their legal position.
The RBA yesterday said it was unable to answer several questions because of upcoming court action and a continuing Australian Federal Police investigation.
In a statement, the RBA said: ''The judicial process is now under way and there are appropriate times in that for formal pleas. The boards of both Securency and NPA are taking legal advice in order to participate in that process.''
The RBA has overhauled its companies' operations, appointed new board members, banned the use of agents and worked with federal police since The Age exposed alleged misconduct at Securency in May 2009.
Federal police on July 1 charged the companies and seven former executives with bribery offences. It is the first time the nation's foreign bribery laws, passed in 1999, have been used in a prosecution.
In response, the RBA expressed deep regret that the governance arrangements in place at the companies had been unable to detect or prevent alleged wrongdoing. The AFP has said it has no evidence that former board members were involved in any alleged bribery.
Despite attempts by the RBA to distance its former appointees to the firms' boards from the scandal - governor Glenn Stevens has defended the directors before Federal Parliament - new information raises questions about the adequacy of their supervision of Securency and NPA.
Directors who fail to exercise proper oversight can be held liable under Australian criminal or corporate law.
During the period for which the firms are expected to admit to bribery, they were chaired by former RBA deputy governor Graeme Thompson, who was also chief of corporate watchdog the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Alongside him on both of the company boards was former RBA assistant governor Les Austin, who resigned from Securency last month, just
weeks before the criminal charges were laid.
Former federal Liberal Party treasurer Mark Bethwaite and former RBA board member Dick Warburton sat on the NPA board during the alleged offending period. None of the four men responded to inquiries by The Age yesterday.
In the case of Securency, tax haven payments were made after its board endorsed external legal advice in June 2006 not to make payments to agents engaging in ''any tax evasion schemes''.
After the Securency board endorsed this advice, Mr Thompson and his fellow directors authorised the payment of more than $18 million to accounts held by Securency middlemen in tax haven locations. The payments were made between late 2006 and September 2009.
The firms will appear before the Melbourne Magistrates Court today for a preliminary hearing.