Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Three Australian banks linked to Horizon Oil $10 million bribery probe


A Brisbane house and three Australian banks are now at the centre of a money laundering probe into a $US10.3 million payment made by the ASX-listed Horizon Oil to a company linked to a senior minister in Papua New Guinea.

The Australian Financial Review has been told Westpac Banking Corp, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Macquarie Group have all lodged Suspicious Matter Reports (SMRs) with the regulator, AUSTRAC, in recent weeks.

The payment, made in 2011, is being re-examined following an investigation by the Financial Review which found that $US10.3 million was transferred to a shell company controlled by the former personal lawyer of William Duma, PNG’s then petroleum minister.

Mr Duma, currently PNG’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, is facing a corruption investigation by authorities in Port Moresby, while the Australian Federal Police are also looking into the matter.

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Horizon Oil terminated its chief executive Michael Sheridan on February 28, saying his position was “untenable”. The oil company has also written down the value of its PNG assets and is conducting its own investigation into the payment.

Since the Financial Review’s investigation was published all three banks have re-examined their records and reported the suspicious transactions to AUSTRAC, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

They have also linked part of the $US10.3 million payment to the purchase of a $1.5 million house in the Brisbane riverside suburb of Indooroopilly.

Mr Duma’s family lived in the house soon after it was purchased, while his two sons attended the nearby St Peter’s Lutheran College, a private school which now charges up to $66,287 a year for full fee-paying international boarders in years 11 and 12. Mr Duma’s family no longer occupies the house.

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One source, after being shown a photograph of Mr Duma, said Mr Duma was among those who inspected the Glencairn Avenue house with two other men.

The house was bought in November 2011 just a month after Horizon Oil made its final payment to a PNG shell company, Elevala Energy Limited, which was controlled by Mr Duma’s former personal lawyer, Simon Ketan.

The house was purchased in the name of Baccarat Investments Solutions, a company controlled by Darrell Seeto, a former Macquarie Group private banker.

Mr Seeto is known to be close to the Duma family and was involved in the same deal which saw Horizon Oil granted a lucrative petroleum licence in PNG by Mr Duma’s department.

Mr Duma has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and said no laws were broken in the granting of the licence. He declined to comment for this article.

Mr Seeto, who now works at stockbroker Shaw & Partners, advised Kina Petroleum on its ASX listing while at Macquarie. This followed Kina being granted a 20 per cent interest in the license know as PRL21. Mr Seeto declined to comment.

Multiple funds transfers

Horizon Oil was issued a 70 per cent interest in the same license. The other 10 per cent was granted to the shell company Elevala Energy, which sold its interest nine weeks later to Horizon Oil for $US10.3 million (about $16.2 million), despite lawyers on the deal raising concerns over corruption.

The sole shareholder and director of Elevala Energy was Mr Ketan, who worked with Mr Duma and has previously acted as his personal lawyer.

It is understood the money was paid by Horizon to a Westpac bank account in Port Moresby, before a portion of it was transferred to accounts at Macquarie and the Commonwealth Bank in Australia.

In January 2019, Mr Duma appointed Mr Seeto as deputy chairman of the National Development Bank, which is charged with providing credit to small and medium-sized businesses in PNG.

Mr Seeto lists the Sydney suburb of Killara as his address.

Any suggestion of the house purchase being tainted could see it targeted by the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce (CACT), which is run by the Australian Federal Police.

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Westpac, Macquarie and CBA declined to comment.

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