Monday 6 June 2011

Aussie firm paid Najib’s cousin to secure banknote deal

KUALA LUMPUR, June 6 — A troubled banknote supply firm linked to Australia’s central bank paid a relative of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to help win contracts here, Australian daily The Age has revealed.

Securency International, half-owned by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), signed Kuala Lumpur firm Liberal Technology as its Malaysian agent in 2009 on the expectation that its biggest shareholder, Datuk Haris Onn Hussein, would “offer it access to, and influence over, Malaysia’s top politicians”.

Haris, also chairman of Liberal Technology, is Najib’s cousin and brother to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who will head to Canberra soon to sign a deal which will see Australia transfer 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and accept 4,000 refugees in return.

But Securency is not believed to have won any further banknote supply contracts from the Malaysian government despite engaging Haris, who owns shares in or sits on the board of several companies that have benefited from government concessions like mandatory security labels for cigarette and alcohol manufacturers, and toll highways.

The Age also stressed that it was not suggesting that either Najib or Hishammuddin were involved in Securency’s dealings here.

Securency is understood to have engaged another agent, former lawmaker and Umno branch treasurer Datuk Abdullah Hasnan Kamaruddin, to help secure contracts with the Malaysian government.

The company last won a major contract here in 2004 and a smaller one in 1998 with the help of arms broker and former Umno official Abdul Kayum Syed Ahmad. He has since been arrested and questioned by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) over the deals and his use of commissions paid by the RBA firm.

Securency, a world leading supplier of plastic banknotes, has been investigated for two years by the Australian Federal Police and the British Serious Fraud Office for allegedly bribing public officials in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Nigeria to win supply contracts.

Under Australian law, it is a criminal offence for a company or individual to pay, or offer a benefit to, foreign government officials or their close relatives to obtain a business advantage.

Australia has yet to prosecute a foreign bribery case, but Securency — which has four RBA-appointed directors on its board — may be the first following a two-year federal investigation and the arrest and questioning of some employees and agents last year.

The Australian Federal Police began investigating Securency in May 2009 after The Age revealed it paid tens of millions of dollars in commissions to politically-connected middlemen to win contracts in Nigeria, Vietnam and India.

The company is said to have wired millions of dollars into tax haven bank accounts in an effort to conceal the beneficiaries of its payments, in an apparent breach of RBA rules.

Securency managing director Myles Curtis and chief financial officer John Ellery were forced out of the company in March last year, while the company’s deputy chairman, Briton Bill Lowther, resigned in October following his arrest by the Serious Fraud Office.

RBA governor Glenn Stevens told a federal parliamentary committee in November that he had not seen any evidence to suggest the bank’s appointees to the Securency board had acted inappropriately.
The central bank plans to sell its stake in Securency.

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