Saturday, May 15, 2021

Former executive of Leighton Holdings charged with bribing Tanzania officials

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A former senior executive of infrastructure giant Leighton Holdings has been charged with conspiring to pay up to $4 million in bribes to high-ranking Tanzanian officials to win an $84 million contract for the Australian company.

The charges against former managing director of Leighton Offshore Russell Waugh come after the businessman was charged in November over separate allegations that he masterminded a bribery plot on behalf of Leighton in Iraq.

The latest charges are the result of the Australian Federal Police’s longest running and most important corporate bribery probe and which, since 2011, has been targeting Leighton’s offshore business and its suspected payment of multimillion-dollar bribes in the Middle East and Africa.

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Official sources also confirmed that Leighton, which is now called CIMIC and remains responsible for some of Australia’s biggest infrastructure projects, is bracing to pay massive fines in the United States.

The US Department of Justice and Securities Exchange Commission has been probing Leighton alongside the federal police and has built a case that the Australian company breached American anti-corruption laws by paying suspected bribes to win large overseas contracts between 2009 and 2012. Firms found responsible in the US for similar offending can pay fines worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In January, former Leighton Holdings chief operating officer David Savage was also charged over his alleged role in the Unaoil bribery scandal.

The prosecutions of Mr Waugh and Mr Savage over Leighton’s Iraq dealings involve allegations of up to $US77.6 million ($98.5 million) in suspicious payments channelled through Monaco-based consultancy Unaoil and other third parties between 2010 and 2012. In return for alleged bribes, Iraqi officials awarded Leighton contracts to build offshore oil pipelines worth $US1.46 billion.

Mr Waugh now faces charges of conspiring to pay bribes in Iraq and Tanzania, while Mr Savage is facing two counts of knowingly providing misleading information contrary to Australian corporations law. A third former Leighton executive, Asia-based Peter Cox, is also wanted by the AFP for his alleged role in the bribery conspiracy in Iraq.

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The Tanzanian charges relate to allegations surrounding a plot to bribe up to four port authority officials between 2009 and 2010. Tanzania’s anti-corruption agency has charged the four officials with abuse of position.

The former chief executive of Leighton Holdings, Wal King, was running the Australian firm when the bribery in Iraq and Tanzania allegedly occurred, but there is no suggestion Mr King was aware of the alleged criminal conduct of Mr Waugh, Mr Savage or Mr Cox.

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald first exposed Leighton’s possible improper dealings in Tanzania in 2013 in reports that alleged the Australian firm was using a corrupt Singaporean company, Lye International, to win contracts in the African nation.

The federal police inquiry into the Tanzania contract was launched in 2014, but has never before been reported on.

Leighton’s use of another company, the Monaco based Unaoil, to win contracts saw it drawn into an international bribery scandal alongside other Western multinationals accused of large-scale graft. Unaoil was hired by Leighton’s offshore arm to help it secure work as part of the company’s aggressive international expansion into Asia and the Middle East.

Unaoil’s extensive criminal activities were laid bare in an unsealed indictment filed in the US in 2019. US authorities accused Unaoil of paying bribes on behalf of up to 25 multinational firms over more than a decade.

Mr Waugh will appear in the Downing Centre Court in Sydney on Tuesday morning in connection to the alleged Tanzanian bribery.

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