Dear Mr Cole,

There’s one thing worse than totally missing a big story – and that’s getting a story totally wrong. That’s what I did yesterday when I stupidly alleged that you didn’t recommend further investigation of AWB Ltd with a view to criminal and civil charges.

I called it incredible and indeed it was not credible because of course you did recommend criminal offences be considered against AWB for possible breaches of four sections of two Crimes Acts and two sections of the Criminal Code, with a possible breaching of a section of the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations for good measure.

And it’s not just AWB that’s likely to feel the blow torch of criminal charges, but AWB International as well on all the same possible breaches. That’s the AWB International that AWB has been busily restructuring and separating to carry its feint hopes of retaining the single desk monopoly. (It’s a motive AWB denies but, hey, they have even less credibility than I do.)

I am very sorry I doubted your judicial rigour on such an important score, particularly when the criminal-charges-against-the-company angle is something I’ve taken a particular interest ever since writing about it in Crikey back on 21 April, noting, thanks to a tip from a grain trader and forensic accounting student, your careful and pointed reasoning for allowing evidence about AWB matters in Pakistan.

How did I make such a blunder? It was a total lack of professionalism in that I trusted other journalists, abetted by the usual excuses of too much to do in too little time and getting caught up in your excellent narrative before a deadline. The matching headlines in both the SMH and Oz “The Dirty Dozen” were simply wrong – it should have been The Dirty Fourteen – but no-one’s used that as a movie title yet. In the SMH’s five broadsheet pages devoted to your report and the AFR’s 10 tabloid pages, I didn’t see anything about you going AWB and AWBI for further prosecution. Same with a cursory glance at the Murdoch rags.

It seems they missed the story, but I was the one who got it wrong. I was horrified by failure when I did eventually get to page 81 of the PDF and read your strong and obvious words – but by then it was too late.

The fishwrappers can always recover from their miss and start thinking about what it will mean for AWB and AWBI to be dragged through the courts on criminal charges. The ASX also might have to consider whether it really wants to be known to list criminal companies – but it might avoid that question by booting AWB just on its disclosure failures first.

The desperates trying to maintain the single desk rort for AWB (or AWBI) might think again about how much Australia wants to be represented by a criminal organisation. Yes, it is an important story.

But I can’t so easily recover from my gaffe and hereby sin-bin myself from Crikey until I can grow a certain thickness of hide.

As community service, Mr Cole, I volunteer always to tell kiddies not to trust what they read in the papers.

CRIKEY: We’re also sorry, Mr Cole, for incorrectly claiming the AWB got away with it in our editorial yesterday.

Peter Fray

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