BHP bribery scandal not thoroughly investigated

Reports have today emerged criminal allegations that BHP Billiton employees bribed officials in Cambodia and China were not thoroughly investigated by the Australian Federal Police, with the matter instead being passed over to corporate regulator ASIC, which also ran no in-depth investigation.

The Age obtained confidential documents via Freedom of Information laws revealing how the AFP and ASIC mishandled the case after US officials referred it to their Australian counterparts in May 2010.

US anti-corruption investigators at the time told the federal police the bribery allegations were ''a matter for Australian authorities''.

The investigations were eyeing “suspicious transactions” made by BHP Billiton to foreign officials during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and that an aborted BHP mining deal allegedly involving corruption was overseen by Cambodian prime minister and strongman Hun Sen, diplomatic cables disclosed.

The AFP declined to explain why the BHP case was closed in late 2011, without an investigation, 16 months after the case was referred to it by US officials.

The AFP said it had initially assessed the matter ''with the knowledge that United States authorities were investigating'', and in February 2013, it launched its own inquiry into ''Australian nationals identified during the US investigation''.

The documents released to Fairfax Media show that in May 2010, the AFP was notified that US investigators had evidence that BHP Billiton was allegedly ''paying bribes to foreign public officials''.

A year later, in May 2011, the AFP referred the case to ASIC.

''It was recommended by [the AFP] … that [ASIC] take the lead role in Australian inquiries in the matter,'' an AFP executive briefing note from 2011 states.

''Should any criminal offences be identified by [ASIC] during their inquiries, the matter shall be referred [back] to the AFP.''

ASIC doesn’t have the authority to investigate bribery claims but can investigate related corporate offences.

But according to The Age, ASIC also did not conduct thorough investigations into the matter.

The SMH has previously reported that ‘protected’ and ‘sensitive’ diplomatic cables reveal Sen’s close involvement in 2006 negotiations with BHP executives where he promised ‘a possible tax holiday’ and that he would give ‘BHP one million hectares of land’ weeks before signing an agreement.  

The Age also claims amongst the corruption allegations identified by US investigators is a Western Australian public official who allegedly received illegal inducements from BHP.

The allegations involving a Western Australian public official are likely to be investigated by WA authorities.

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