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AWB to escape massive fines
Disgraced monopoly wheat exporter AWB will escape billions of dollars worth of fines after the Federal Government's decision to introduce tough new laws for breaching United Nations' sanctions but not make them retrospective.

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock announced yesterday the Federal Government would introduce a set of new laws later this month in the wake of the Cole inquiry that revealed the extent to which AWB breached UN sanctions to keep its wheat trade with Saddam Hussein's regime intact.

Under the proposed laws, companies operating under UN sanctions that provide false or misleading information to the Government about their activities will face fines worth three times the value of the offending transaction or 10 years' jail for individuals. In the case of AWB, it paid kickbacks worth close to $300 million to Saddam for contracts worth well over $1 billion.

But a spokesman for Mr Ruddock confirmed that the fines and jail terms would not be retrospective - ensuring AWB and its senior management would avoid the new penalties.

Other changes planned include creating a new offence for breaching UN sanctions, powers given to government agencies to obtain evidence if it is thought a company is breaking the law and strengthening laws aimed at the bribery of foreign officials.

After much complaint by Labor and law groups, the Government will also make the definition of a bribe tougher.

Previously, there has been a difference between criminal law covering briberies and tax law relating to so-called facilitation payments. The tax office decided against trying to recoup the bribes paid by AWB to Iraq, which were claimed back as a tax deduction under the facilitation payment.

Only minor facilitation payments will be open to tax deductibility.

Another problem with Australian tax law regarding bribery was that in the case of Saddam, bribery was not technically illegal in Iraq.

Mr Ruddock said the changes would strengthen Australian law on a range of fronts.

"Australia led the world in conducting the public, transparent and independent Cole inquiry. These changes continue Australia's tough stance," he said.

Meanwhile, extra staff have been assigned to the special task force investigating possible charges against several AWB personnel, including WA-based Trevor Flugge.

Philip Ruddock: Making it illegal for companies to break UN sanctions
MGR Archive 6.5.2007
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