Richard Farmer is no doubt correct to suggest that no pub in the country would convict the AWB 12, at least at the moment, but the hometown reception is going to be the least of their worries. After all, what’s the worst that could happen, even with a conviction in Australia? A few years tops, all but the first few months of it spent at an Alan Bond Country Club open prison.

OK, I exaggerate, but what the wheatapricks really need to worry about is the reaction in the US, where they’re busy building the gallows outside the cell window.

The racketeering class action against the AWB by Kansas farmers was withdrawn about the moment the Cole report hit the desk – because the plaintiffs are now going jurisdiction-shopping, and innumerable paralegals are working through the report line by line to reframe the case.

As noted with the case of the Natwest Three – the UK bankers extradited to the US for an alleged crime committed entirely in the UK – the asymmetrical powers that the US takes to itself in regard of both civil and criminal cases, means that you never really know when you’re going to get a fast-tracked extradition and end up banged up with Manuel Noriega.

The US Wheat Association has already picked this up, with its president telling ABC radio:

The funds that came from the oil-for-food programme moved through US banks…There are a lot of connections here and possible violations of US law.

Which would be the trigger they need to lay waste before them, and enter the Australian wheat market as an exporter.

All of this will be supported by the US Democrats, as an invaluable part of their strategy to differentiate themselves from the Republicans, without actually withdrawing from Iraq. The more it can be portrayed as a war bungled because of corruption, the more the issue of unanimous support for it can be swept under the rug.

The potential for this affair to drive a huge stake through US-Australian relations is unprecedented. Take a look at how it’s being headlined in American news sources: we didn’t bribe Iraq, we bribed Saddam Hussein. All the US wheat industry has to do is lean on the point that this money might have gone to the Republican Guard – and thus maybe be paying, even now, for roadside bombs – and we’re, well, toast.

At that point, here, even in the lounge bar, the politics of shame may kick in. It’s a pretty hard one to get up and running in Australia, but once it kicks in, it’s pretty all-encompassing. Some prime Aussie lamb will be needed as a sacrificial offering. The AWB twelve might want to think about Bernie Ebbers, the sixtysomething former head of Worldcom, now in the third year of a 30-year jail term.

Peter Fray

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