The Australian Federal Police doesn’t have the resources to properly tackle criminal behaviour by Australian companies operating overseas, claims a whistleblower, amid suggestions the agency will reveal further allegations against Leighton Holdings.
Speaking to a Senate foreign bribery inquiry on Friday, AFP acting deputy commissioner, Mr Ian McCartney, said important “developments” were expected. He said there were currently 18 active foreign bribery investigations, four briefs were with the Director of Public Prosecutions and two cases were before the courts.
But former Leighton senior executive, Mr Stephen Sasse, told the hearing the AFP did not have the necessary expertise or experience in foreign bribery cases.
Mr Sasse’s evidence about the apparent theft of up to $14 million by Leighton executives for offshore activities helped to initiate an AFP investigation.
Mr Sasse, a major witness at the trade union royal commission, said he had been forced out in 2012 after raising concerns about a generous retirement package for Leighton chief executive Mr Wal King.
But four years later no one had been charged by the AFP with any foreign bribery offences. Mr Sasse said Australia was not playing in the same league as the US and UK in the pursuit of foreign bribery detection or prosecution.
He said he had signed a statement to assist the corporate regulator ASIC in its investigation into then-Leightons finance executive Mr Peter Gregg.
He told the inquiry ASIC had since told him Mr Gregg would be charged over false accounting offenses allegedly involving a $15million payment.
Mr Gregg has denied any impropriety and has issued a writ against Fairfax Media over its reporting of the allegations.
The AFP’s Mr McCartney, who appeared after Mr Sasse, said he noted the evidence about a lack of progress in the Leighton Holdings investigation.
“You can expect to see some developments in the near future”, he said.
He acknowledged the AFP may not have had the technical capability at that time but in co-operation with international agencies was gathering that expertise.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced an additional $15 million over three years would strengthen the capacity of the AFP to trace corrupt money flows, seize tainted proceeds and “engage the best lawyers to prosecute the perpetrators”.
“The power of this multi-agency approach has been underscored by the Australian Tax Office’s recent success in identifying more than 800 Australian names in the Panama Papers and matching about 80 of those names to the Australian Crime Commission’s serious and organised crime intelligence data base,” Mr Turnbull said.
The extra funds would support the AFP’s multi-agency Fraud and Anti-Corruption Centre.
Quentin Dempster is political editor of The New Daily. He has more than 40 years’ experience in print and television (The Sun Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC TV) and is the author of three critically acclaimed books and a documentary on institutionalised corruption. He also has a Walkley Award and an Order of Australia for an ‘outstanding contribution to journalism’.