20 Nov 2020
Australia’s longest-running bribery investigation came to a head on Wednesday with the arrest in Queensland of a former senior executive from construction giant Leighton Holdings over his alleged involvement in a $1 billion international graft scandal.
The charging of Russell Waugh comes after two Monaco-based brothers turned police supergrasses and agreed to testify in Australia.
Mr Waugh is the first of at least three top Australian executives to face charges in connection to the Unaoil conspiracy, which involved bribes paid to ministers and officials in oil producing nations around the world, and which has already led to the jailing or guilty pleas of executives in Europe and the US. There is no suggestion Mr Waugh is guilty, only that he is facing two counts of conspiracy to bribe Iraqi officials.
Australian Federal Police deputy commissioner Ian McCartney said the charges were part of a “hugely significant” investigation that had taken nine years and involved unpicking “a really complex jigsaw puzzle” of intermediary companies in 10 countries.
Mr Waugh is a former managing director of Leighton Offshore who later worked as the chief executive of listed firm UGL – a job he lost only when The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald broke the Unaoil story in 2016 about his alleged corruption. He was arrested on Wednesday morning at his Brisbane home.
Mr Waugh allegedly masterminded a plot between March 2010 and mid-2012 that involved bribing high-ranking Iraqi officials in return for $1.4 billion of Iraqi government oil pipeline contracts for Leighton.
Bribery or Corporations Act charges are also expected to be brought against at least two other former top executives from Leighton, a listed firm now called CIMIC. Court files identify those to be charged as David Savage who is currently in France, and Peter Cox who is in Asia. Both may face extradition.
Mr Waugh is the most senior executive from an ASX-listed company to be charged with foreign bribery offences in Australia since the laws were passed in 1999 and his arrest marks a major breakthrough in an Australian Federal Police investigation that has cost millions of dollars.
Deputy commissioner McCartney said the arrests showed the commitment of the Australian Federal Police to international bribery investigations.
“It’s a serious crime … there is a misconception that foreign bribery is just the cost of doing business. It isn’t. Foreign bribery … reflects poorly on our national character and inflicts generational economic damage on the countries impacted.”
He said the police were continuing to investigate if the Commonwealth could recoup the financial benefit enjoyed by Leighton, now CIMIC, under proceeds of crimes laws.
By Nick McKenzie and Lucy Stone, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 November 2020
Read more at The Sydney Morning Herald
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