The Iraqi kickbacks inquiry may be reconvened and former AWB chief executive Andrew Lindberg ordered back into the witness boxafter the Federal Court cleared the way for an admission of guilt drafted in his name to be made public.
Federal Court judge Neil Young ruled yesterday that the letter – written after a US corporate crisis expert advised AWB to “over-apologise” to deal with fallout from the Volcker report into the UN’s oil-for-food program – was not subject to legal professional privilege.
AWB, accused of paying bribes to Saddam Hussein under the program, had fought to keep the letter secret.
In his testimony before the Cole inquiry in January, Mr Lindberg denied he knew “trucking fees” paid to a Jordanian company were in fact going straight to Saddam.
Mr Lindberg’s evidence is now likely to be re-examined and tested against the letter of contrition, which contains an unequivocal statement of guilt.
In his testimony before the inquiry, Mr Lindberg, who has now left the company, maintained that the full extent of the kickbacks scandal only became apparent to him in October last year after the Volcker report found AWB paid $290million in kickbacks to Saddam’s regime.
The letter is currently subject to a non-publication order. But commissioner Terence Cole is set to lift the order and make an announcement about further hearings early next week.
A range of other documents that were produced before the commission but whose legal privilege status was unclear may also now be examined in detail by the commissioner.
Justice Young yesterday rejected all three of AWB’s arguments that the letter of contrition was subject to legal privilege and should remain secret.
AWB barrister James Judd told the court in Melbourne his client would not appeal the decision.
AWB had argued that the letter – drafted in December last year after a telephone conference with corporate crisis guru Peter Sandman and later accidentally given to the Cole inquiry – was written for the dominant purpose of obtaining legal advice.
Justice Young said he was not satisfied that was the case.
Further, if the letter were made public, the nature of any legal advice given to AWB would notbe clear to a reader, he ruled.
And in rejecting AWB’s argument that the apology letter was drafted for use in any litigation that followed the publishing of Mr Cole’s report, Justice Young said that form of privilege did not extend to documents tendered to a royal commission.
He ruled that AWB had no legal right to challenge Mr Cole’s power to decide whether the document was legally privileged.
In March, at a hearing of the Cole inquiry in Sydney, the commissioner ruled that the document was not legally privileged.
That decision was made in line with the commissioner’s administrative power under the Royal Commission Act to “determine his own actions and procedures”, Justice Young said.
AWB was the biggest provider of goods, and paid the most in bribes, under the UN oil-for-food program. It has admitted making the payments but says it believed the Jordanian company was a legitimate firm, paid to transport AWB wheat around the country.
Copyright © 2006 by The Australian