Michael Pascoe writes:
For all the fun and farce of the AWB
performance at the oil-for-food inquiry so far, it is actually early days with
the best bits yet to come.
As we have suggested previously, the games
don’t really start until the rollovers come in. And that’s why, amid the welter
of coverage in the papers today, the most important story belongs to Caroline
Overington in The Australian, the
very same reporter former Washington Ambassador Michael Thawley
dismissed as a “rogue journalist” when persuading US lawmakers not to
pursue an inquiry in 2004.
She reports that at least three current and
former AWB employees want to rollover in return for immunity for prosecution:
All three are
believed to be seeking immunity from prosecution, which inquiry head Terence
Cole can recommend to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions under
the commission’s terms of reference. One former employee, who has already given
an anonymous statement, told investigators he was terrified of being prosecuted
for making payments to foreign officials, which he claimed was “common
practice” at AWB.
All the amnesia and dyslexia in the world
won’t save the AWB once that happens.
Best colour piece on the theatre goes to
David Marr in the Smage.
No, it’s not cold objective reporting, but it captures the torture of AWB’s
Michael Long very nicely.
And speaking of Long, he may have provided
the key to why BHP is taking so long to make any attempt to clear its name or
come clean given the serious allegations made against it.
While Long seems to have the AWB disease of
sometimes not remembering what day it is, he was able to remember the name of
BHP executive director and head of BHP Petroleum, Phil Aitken, and drop him
right in it:
Mr Long said he was not a party to the original BHP deal
and was not aware it was in breach of UN sanctions. But he said AWB had agreed
to help recover the $US8 million owed by the Iraqis for the shipment by
secretly inflating two 2002 wheat contracts that were to be paid for out of the
UN’s oil-for-food program.
Mr Long said the head of BHP Petroleum, Phil Aitken, had
sold the original BHP wheat debt to Tigris Petroleum, a company
registered in Melbourne by two former BHP executives. One of them,
Davidson Kelly, began “haranguing” Mr Long at AWB about recovering
The deal was so sensitive, AWB drew up a “sham”
legal agreement to disguise the transfer of the money from its accounts to Tigris.
Mr Long was questioned repeatedly about whether part of the debt was to be used
to pay bribes in Iraq
after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
While Long didn’t never know nuffink your
honour about AWB doing anything naughty, he was able to tell Terence Cole QC
who at the top of BHP Petroleum did what with whom. Amazing.
With one of BHP’s inner sanctum named, the
company will be very, very careful about what its internal inquiry finds, how
it finds it and how it presents it.
But the longer BHP takes to put its cards
on the table, the more it looks like it might be playing with a dubious deck.