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Cole inquiry: Commissioner wants all information relevant to AWB investigation into alleged improper payments to Iraq.

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Tuesday 21 February 2006

Cole inquiry: Commissioner wants all information relevant to AWB investigation into alleged improper payments to Iraq


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minis ter has been quick to deny that the Government is holding back on any documents which may useful in the Iraq bribery inquiry. 


Terence Cole QC is leading an investigation into alleged bribes by Australian companies to Saddam Hussein's regime.  


Mr Cole today appealed to a range of people, including politicians, to come forward with any relevant information.  


But the Prime Minister says he and his ministers have already provided all appropriate documents. 


The call for new information comes as Commissioner Cole prepares to begin a new chapter. 


Brendan Trembath reports. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: Terence Cole QC is about to shift his focus from the wheat exporter AWB to an oil company called Tigris Petroleum. 


He's made a public appeal for information. 


TERENCE COLE: I have previously invited any person who has knowledge of information which may be material to this inquiry to provide it to those assisting me. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: Commissioner Cole is targeting a particular group of insiders who may have information relevant to his investigation into improper payments to Iraq in breach of United Nations sanctions. 


TERENCE COLE: In light of the extensive pubic commentary on matters said to touch upon supposed aspects of actual or constructed knowledge of the Commonwealth concerning matters relating to the subject matter of this inquiry, I am extending a specific invitation to any member of Parliament, any member of the media, any public servant, or any member of the public, who believes that they have information relevant to this aspect of the inquiry, to provide any such information to those assisting me. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: In 2001 Tigris Petroleum wrote to the wheat exporter, AWB, asking for help to recover a debt of about $US 8 million. 


The Cole inquiry has heard that AWB inflated the price of wheat contracts to include the funds that Iraq owed to Tigris Petroleum. 


Tigris was associated with BHP Billiton. 


The BHP Chairman, Don Argus, says BHP will cooperate by providing any relevant information. 


DON ARGUS: And we've said quite plainly we'll deal with the facts and then we'll come out and say, give our side of the story. So we're not holding anything back on it. We need to, to, to understand all the facts. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: A key question is does Terence Cole QC already know that other documents exist? 


He's not letting on if he does. 


The Prime Minister John Howard says as far as the Government is concerned there are no other documents.  


JOHN HOWARD: We have already provided all the evidence we have. 


REPORTER: So you won't be putting anything… 


JOHN HOWARD: Well, I've nothing, I, I mean, what I have to submit is, is, is the material within my … I have no knowledge of this issue beyond the material which is in the possession of the Government, and which has been provided, and I have made it clear to all the departments that all documents relevant to the matters under discussion before the Commission - and that includes clearly the involvement of officials and the involvement of ministers - that that documentation should be provided. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Federal Government has already provided documents to the inquiry such as this 2001 message from Foreign Affairs warning the United Nations Security Council that the wheat exporter AWB was being asked to pay unusual and possibly improper port fees. 


EXCERPT FROM FOREIGN AFFAIRS WARNING: Payment of such fees in US dollars would constitute a breach of sanctions. Our understanding is also that procurement of Iraqi dinars with which to pay such fees prevents significant practical problems. 


BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Prime Minister's Office insists any other relevant documents have already been sent to the Cole inquiry.  


JOHN HOWARD: If there are any questions the Commission has in relation to the material or evidence or whatever description you want to give it that they already have, well, we would obviously be willing to respond But I don't have anything further to offer, other than a repetition of what I've previously said. 


MARK COLVIN: The Prime Minister John Howard ending that report from Brendan Trembath.