AWB knew of Saddam deal

A SENIOR lawyer has told a Senate inquiry he believed there was a "prima facie" case that senior executives in the AWB knew about payments, which breached United Nations regulations, that went to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Barrister John Agius SC, who worked for a royal commission investigating the "wheat for weapons" scandal, was one of several witnesses to give evidence yesterday before a Senate inquiry, which is examining claims by a then-federal police officer he was offered a promotion for "shutting down" an investigation into the scandal.

The barrister told the inquiry while he believed there was a "prima facie case" against some of the executives, they had not denied the payments were made, but denied any knowledge that the contracts breached the rules set down for the UN's Oil for Food program.

Mr Agius said the executives "certainly made no admissions during the (Cole) inquiry".

The scandal over payments AWB made through a Jordanian trucking company to Hussein's regime during the Iraq War rocked the Howard government, but a royal commission into the matter did not result in any criminal charges.

A federal police and ASIC taskforce, which investigated the issue in 2007, and a review of evidence by Peter Hastings QC commissioned in 2009 by the AFP found that "the resources required to mount a prosecution, and the consequential costs, would be disproportionate to the prospects of the criminal prosecution succeeding".

But the scandal is again under the spotlight, with the Senate inquiry investigating claims by former AFP officer Ross Fusca, filed in court proceedings in 2012, that he was offered a promotion to make the taskforce "go away".

However, an ASIC investigator who worked on the taskforce, Brendan Caridi, on Thursday told the inquiry he did not believe the taskforce was hampered by a lack of resources or time to investigate the matter.

Rather, another ASIC witness, Chris Savundra, who was not at the regulator at the time, said it was slowed by jurisdictional issues between the powers ASIC held and the powers the AFP held.

Mr Savundra said while for other similar investigations in the past, the government had passed "enabling legislation" to allow a speedier investigation, no such laws were passed for the taskforce.

Asked by Labor Senator Joe Ludwig why ASIC had joined a taskforce without the legislation, Mr Savundra said that "such decisions were made by the government" and took the question on notice.

Mr Savundra also said the corporate regulator now had some legal proceedings on foot against two AWB executives, but that he could not comment on the legal action, as it may be prejudicial to the case.

The Senate inquiry also took evidence in camera from several witnesses, and has not received a public submission from Mr Fusca. The inquiry is due to report its findings in November.


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