Reserve Bank account used 'to pay bribes'

A RESERVE Bank of Australia account in the United States was used to pay bribes, court documents allege, potentially putting it in breach of United States anti-corruption laws.

The former finance manager of Reserve Bank subsidiary Note Printing Australia, Raimond Kukk, has alleged that the Reserve Bank held an account ''on behalf of NPA [Note Printing Australia]'' from which more than $US4.5 million in ''commissions'' were paid to Indonesian ''agent'' Radius Christanto.

In a federal police statement tendered to the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday in the committal of eight former executives from the bank's subsidiaries, Mr Kukk also cited a fax which he said ''contains transfer instructions for the payment of Christanto's commission''.

''These details are identical to the transfer instructions I later faxed to the International Settlements Department of the RBA on 4 August 1999.''

If the Reserve Bank was aware of such payments, it could find itself in violation of the anti-bribery provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which the US Department of Justice says ''now also apply to foreign firms and persons who cause, directly or through agents, an act in furtherance of such a corrupt payment to take place within the territory of the United States''.

The prosecution alleges that the commission payments were destined for the pockets of corrupt Indonesian bank officials, including former Indonesian central bank currency chief Herman Joseph Susmanto, and that the payments helped the accused executives to obtain or retain lucrative contracts for the supply of plastic banknotes.

In his statement, Mr Kukk said the account with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was managed by the Payments Settlements Department.

Note Printing Australia is a fully owned subsidiary of the Reserve Bank, and the Reserve Bank of Australia website lists the Payments Settlements Department as part of the bank ''responsible for the settlement of high-value payments and interbank obligations''.

In three statements dated October 13, 2010, and August 2, 2011, Mr Kukk said that former Note Printing Australia chief executive John Leckenby, who has been charged with offences related to conspiring to provide an illegitimate benefit with the intention of influencing a foreign public official, was appointed ''in line with the new direction at NPA to more aggressively market internationally polymer banknotes and polymer technology … and thereby reduce the cost to the RBA for the production of Australian banknotes.''

He said that Leckenby's strategy involved setting up regional offices in France, Malaysia and the US and ''a further strategy employed by Leckenby was the engaging of agents''.

Mr Kukk stated: ''At no time did I know what the agent fee covered.'' But this was challenged under cross-examination by Phillip Priest, QC, who suggested that Mr Kukk's statement had been designed to keep himself ''out of trouble''. Mr Kukk said he could not recall the answers to many questions, once saying: ''It was 13 years ago''. The hearing continues today.

mbeck@theage.com.au

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The story Reserve Bank account used 'to pay bribes' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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