Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens said the central bank won’t disclose some documents relating to allegations of corruption at its note-printing units to avoid jeopardizing criminal prosecutions.
“It is very important that the Reserve Bank does not say or do anything which would improperly impinge on any legal process, most particularly not in a public forum,” Stevens told a parliamentary panel in Canberra today. “There are accordingly documents which, I am advised, we should not table at this time.”
Eight former managers and employees at the central bank’s Note Printing Australia Ltd. unit and Securency International Pty face charges in relation to the bribing of officials in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam from 1999 to 2004 to win bank-note printing contracts. The RBA is facing demands from Greens Party lawmaker Adam Bandt for a public inquiry into the matter, which has resulted in the first prosecutions under anti-bribery laws enacted in Australia in 2000.
It was the first time Stevens was called to testify to parliament solely about the case. The RBA governor said that while he believed officials who reported to him acted appropriately, there should have been more questioning and “skepticism” of both companies.
Stevens, who didn’t comment about the Australian economy or monetary policy in the text of his remarks, responded to questions from some lawmakers about how senior officials handled information from a whistle-blower about the alleged bribery. The RBA last week lowered the overnight cash rate target to 3.25 percent to help bolster an economy that’s showing signs of slowing.
“A number of the individuals accused have expressed concerns regarding the possibility of publication of this material and the bank has decided we should not publish it,” Stevens said in his prepared remarks today. “But there is a list of documents that are relevant. If at some stage the constraints are able to be lessened, then the committee will know what documents may be of interest.”
Former RBA Deputy Governor Ric Battellino also appeared before the panel today.
Brian Hood, former company secretary at Note Printing Australia who revealed alleged corruption at the RBA unit, said last week he was told by Battellino not to disclose his concerns.
Hood, testifying before a parliamentary committee in Sydney on Oct. 4, said Battellino, the central bank’s No. 2 official until he retired earlier this year, told him at his farewell lunch from the NPA in 2008 “not to mention the matter.” Hood said he was “made redundant” from the NPA a year after he wrote Battellino a letter raising concerns NPA agents were being funded to pay bribes in order to win foreign contracts.
In response to questioning today, Battellino said he didn’t tell Hood to remain silent and said that it was Hood who demanded secrecy during the process. “I’m not a person who goes around telling people not to say things,” Battellino said.
Securency’s former chief financial officer David Ellery pleaded guilty to one charge of false accounting and on Aug. 20 was given a six-month suspended sentence after he agreed to cooperate with investigators and testify at trials of the other employees.
Note Printing Australia is governed by a board of directors appointed by the Reserve Bank. Securency’s board has three directors appointed by the RBA. The central bank said in its annual report last year that it had replaced its representatives on the two companies’ boards. The RBA said in November 2010 that it will sell its stake in Securency.