Posted: June 13, 2008
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Article SummaryIn 2006, I was a peripheral part of a huge controversy in Australia over kickbacks allegedly paid to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq through a company called AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board). AWB had asked (and not taken) my advice on how to handle the issue – and a government investigation made the advice public. Here is a fuller explanation and links to nine specific clips.

The 2006 Australian
AWB Oil-for-Food Kickback

Nine newspaper clippings. See complete list below.

This is a little complicated, so pay attention. AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board) is the only company legally authorized to export Australian wheat. For decades, one of its customers was the Government of Iraq. The company was flagged in the 2005 Volcker investigation of the United Nations Oil-for-Food scandal as possibly having been involved in kickbacks to the Saddam Hussein regime. This precipitated an Australian Government investigation called the Cole Inquiry. In December 2005, with the Cole Inquiry about to start, AWB sought my advice. AWB has given me permission to say that much, but details of the consultation are (as usual) confidential.

What isn’t confidential (anymore) is a “Draft Statement of Contrition” drawn up by AWB management after our consultation. It was never used. But someone at AWB erroneously included it in a pile of materials provided to the Cole Inquiry staff. In March 2006 there was some testimony about it, and it was projected for a few minutes during an Inquiry session. Then it was suppressed pending a months-long legal argument over whether the draft was privileged (as AWB attorneys argued) or public (as the Inquiry staff argued). A spate of Australian news stories speculated about the “explosive” but secret document by an American “crisis manager” or “PR guru” or “spinmeister” that urged a “strategy of contrition” described by one AWB official as “over-apologizing.” Finally in May 2006 the Australian courts ruled that the document was public, and it was published, along with another flurry of articles.

Please note that not everything in these articles is correct. Some articles say I drafted the document; I didn’t. Some articles say the document admits AWB knowingly paid kickbacks; it doesn’t. Only one publication, the Australian Financial Review, actually spent some time finding out what sort of advice I typically give my clients. (Of course it didn’t help that I wouldn’t tell reporters anything about my work with AWB.)

Seven more or less typical stories are linked below, plus the March Australian Financial Review profile (Adobe Acrobat (pdf) file, 327 kB, located on this site) and the text of the draft contrition statement (located off this site).

AWB public relations documents sent to Cole Inquiry

Brendan Trembath

Broadcast on ABC Radio, March 24, 2006.

This file is located off this site.

AWB tried to “over-apologise” for scandal

Published in The Age, March 25, 2006 (posted March 23, 2006) (from AAP)

This file is located off this site.

AWB dumped apology plan

Gerald McManus

Published in The Herald Sun, March 25, 2006

This file is located on this site.

AWB fails to follow its spinmeister’s advice  this an MS Word document

Angus Grigg

Published in the Australian Financial Review, March 27, 2006

This MS Word file this an MS Word document is located on this site.

AWB: all damage, no control 

Fiona Carruthers

Published in the Australian Financial Review, March 29, 2006

This pdf file ( 327 kB) is located on this site.

AWB’s Draft Apology Says It Contravened UN Sanctions

Posted on, May 17, 2006

This file is located off this site.

AWB loses bid to withdraw chief’s apology

Dan Silkstone

Published in The Age, May 18, 2006

This file is located off this site.

Public may see AWB letter of “guilt”

Natasha Robinson

Published in The Age, May 18, 2006

This file is located on this site.

AWB's apology letter

Published in The Age, May 18, 2006

This file is located off this site.

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