The stockmarket didn’t react to yesterday’s Federal Court ruling that AWB will have to hand over 360 sensitive documents to the Cole Inquiry. Presumably that’s because the brave souls left holding AWB shares didn’t understand what the ruling meant – just like the AWB board will claim it didn’t understand what anything meant.

AWB shares closed just one cent lower yesterday despite the Cole Inquiry revving up again with hearings likely to start as early as Monday. Aside from the obvious former management, every member of the AWB board during the Iraq scandal and its attempted cover-up, plus a number of lawyers, should be feeling nervous.

So should shareholders. Cole still doesn’t have his hands on the documents that Justice Young decided were brought into existence apparently for “an improper and dishonest purpose” and designed to “work a trickery” on the UN. The judge gave AWB until tomorrow to file submissions. If the company sticks to its announcement of not appealing, final orders should be made by Thursday and then Cole’s team will sink their teeth in.

The Oz is saying criminal charges against AWB executives is “almost certain”. But so are criminal charges against the company itself and the board is far from being in the clear over the cover-up phase of the scandal, even if they didn’t know about the crime at the time.

AWB has been given past and present executives indemnities that could prove rather costly. And directors’ professional liability insurance won’t cover their costs should they be found to have done broken the law. On top of the legal fees (inflated by the company’s stupidity in fighting Cole every step of the way), that’s adding up to quite a bill.

More importantly, AWB is likely to finish up smelling so badly that no politician will want to be seen anywhere near it. Keeping the wheat export monopoly simply doesn’t seem possible in a rational world – National Party politics notwithstanding.

As I write, the implications are filtering through to investors: AWB shares are down another eight cents.

Peter Fray

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