7 Oct 2010

Raids in three countries over RBA currency company

1:41 pm on 7 October 2010

Law enforcement agencies in Melbourne, Britain and Spain have launched raids over claims of corrupt conduct by the currency subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The ABC reports Securency International is alleged to have paid millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials in Africa, South America and Asia.to secure note printing contracts.

The technology to make polymer banknotes was developed by the Reserve Bank, which then set up the company Securency to sell the product to the world.

The ABC reports AFP officers on Wednesday night executed warrants against six Victorian premises believed to be the homes of current and former employees of Securency.

In Britain, the Serious Fraud Office raided eight homes and one business across the UK, and two men were arrested.

There were also two raids in Spain, targeting three British nationals.

The Serious Fraud Office says the raids involve the activities of employees and agents of Securency International and their alleged corrupt role in securing international polymer banknote contracts.

The head of a British anti-bribery and corruption consultancy, Interchange, and a former British banknote executive, John Burbidge-King, says the raids show the allegations are being taken very seriously.

'Serious' accusation

"For any company, an allegation of this nature is hugely serious on its reputation, not just in the domestic market in which it operates, but I understand Securency exports worldwide," he said.

"Banks and its customers worldwide will be asking huge questions about the ethical behaviour of a company which is purported to have done that."

He says many years ago, the type of behaviour alleged to have occurred may have been more accepted.

"But I think ethics has become an issue worldwide primarily because people basically are fed up with being ripped off," he said.

"Secondly, in a fairly dire economic climate in many parts of the world, lining people's pockets in this manner is certainly not acceptable behaviour.

"It undermines government and the law and countries which are coming to democracies and trying to be players in the world stage, however big or small they are, it undermines their ability to abide by and to deliver a lawful jurisdiction in areas of good governance."

Investigation delayed

Despite an earlier tip-off from a whistleblower, the Australian Federal Police began investigating the allegations only after they were revealed by The Age newspaper last year.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has long called for an independent inquiry into the allegations against Securency.

"This really affects Australia's international reputation. It raises issues of governance with the Reserve Bank," he said.

"It is legitimate in the public interest to ask why the Federal Police haven't acted earlier."