– Federal police made a “critical decision” not to investigate criminal allegations that Australians working for BHP Billiton had bribed officials in Cambodia, China and Western Australia and instead handballed the case to the corporate regulator; which also ran no probe.
Confidential documents reveal how the AFP and ASIC, with the knowledge of federal officials, mishandled one of the nation’s highest-profile corporate graft cases after US officials referred it to their Australian counterparts in May 2010.
US anti-corruption investigators have been probing BHP Billiton since 2009 – an inquiry that is likely to result in the company receiving a massive fine. But they had told the federal police the bribery allegations were “a matter for Australian authorities”.
A source close to the US investigation called the AFP’s initial decision not to take up the inquiry “inexplicable”, given BHP Billiton is headquartered in Melbourne and had allegedly broken Australian criminal laws.
It was only recently that a self-initiated internal review led the AFP to reopen the bribery file and initiate a formal investigation.
The AFP declined to state why it closed its file on BHP in late 2011, 16 months after the case was referred to it by US officials, without conducting its own investigation. But in a statement, the AFP said it had briefly assessed the matter “with the knowledge that United States authorities were investigating”.
The AFP said that in February 2013, after further discussions with US investigators, it began its own inquiry into “Australian nationals identified during the US investigation”.
Documents released to Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws reveal that in May 2010, the Australian authorities were told US investigators had found evidence that BHP Billiton was allegedly “paying bribes to foreign public officials”. Such conduct would breach criminal laws.
It is believed US officials also identified a public official in WA as having received potentially illegal inducements from BHP, although this is redacted in the FOI documents, and the AFP stated to Fairfax Media that it could not comment on the allegations as they are “part of the ongoing investigation”.
The FOI files reveal that federal police spent 12 months “evaluating” possible “bribery offences or corporate law offences” without conducting independent investigations, although the evaluation included talks with US authorities.
In May 2011, the AFP handballed the case to ASIC, a move facilitated by an official within the Attorney-General’s Department.
“It was recommended by [the AFP]…that [ASIC] take the lead role in Australian inquiries in the matter,” an AFP executive briefing note from 2011 states.
“Should any criminal offences be identified by [ASIC] during their inquiries! the matter shall be referred [back] to the AFP.”
ASIC has no jurisdiction to probe bribery but can investigate related corporate offences. It also did not conduct in-depth investigations. According to the FOI files: “On 23 September 2011, the matter was formally rejected by the AFP.”
The mining giant’s aborted attempt to establish a bauxite mine in Cambodia and its hospitality program for Chinese officials at the 2008 Beijing Olympics are among the conduct being examined.
According to diplomatic cables previously published by Fairfax Media, the Cambodian deal was personally overseen by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The notes of a senior AFP investigator, released in the FOI files, reveal that the AFP had identified the role of Australian officials in the deal. “It should be noted that this matter does include senior Australian government representatives as a result of BHP Billiton negotiations” the hand-written AFP file note states.
The allegations involving a Western Australian public official are likely to be probed by WA authorities – Nick McKenzie & Richard Baker


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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