The Securency scandal, which is the subject of a Victorian Supreme Court superinjunction published this week by WikiLeaks, has been running for many years.
Gun Age investigative journalists Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker broke the story in May 2009, revealing allegations that Securency, a note-printing company half-owned by the Reserve Bank, had for years paid kickbacks to a wide range of officials in Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal and a number of other countries. In time, the allegations would extend to officials of Note Printing Australia, a company fully owned by the Reserve Bank.
But before McKenzie and Baker’s story, the Reserve Bank board had already grown alarmed at the governance arrangements for both companies and, in particular, the use of agents to represent the firms in foreign markets, particularly after the Australian Wheat Board scandal. As RBA governor Glenn Stevens told then-treasurer Wayne Swan in 2010, in 2007 the NPA was stopped from using agents altogether, and the boards and managements of both companies were overhauled. Steven insisted that the RBA was unaware of specific allegations of bribery until McKenzie and Baker revealed them, although internal documents seemed to cast doubt on that claim in at least one instance.
Once the story had broken, Securency referred the claims to the Australian Federal Police and commissioned what turned out to be a damning audit by KPMG. The RBA flagged to Swan that it wanted to get out of the company altogether, something it finally managed early last year when it offloaded its half to the other owner, British firm Innovia.
Meantime, investigations for bribery both here and overseas proceeded, and a number of prosecutions resulted. Few have been successful. The prosecution of a Vietnamese intelligence official was dismissed; British businessman William Lowther was acquitted in the UK. The prosecution of nine former Securency and NPA officials, and the companies themselves, has been a slow process marked by legal manoeuvring, injunctions and an unsuccessful attempt by The Age to prevent McKenzie and Baker themselves from being dragged into court by defendants’ lawyers.
The latest injunction, partly obtained by DFAT allegedly to protect Australia’s international relations and backed by a now-sealed affidavit from a senior departmental officer, was issued as part of the trial of one of the Note Printing Australia executives. DFAT’s position if anything became even more ridiculous overnight after the Indonesian government challenged DFAT to make clear that current president Yudhoyono and former president Megawati Sukarnoputri were not the subject of the legal action in which the injunction was issued, forcing the department to issue a statement clarifying the current and former presidents “are not the subject of the Securency proceedings“.
As the response of the Indonesian government makes clear, DFAT’s attempt to gag the media from reporting on the case has backfired spectacularly.
*With additional research by Karen Palenzuela