ANDREW Lindberg has escaped criminal liability at the Cole inquiry but critics maintain the former A

06 Dec, 2006 08:45 PM
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During the Cole inquiry, counsel assisting John Agius SC gave Mr Lindberg a severe hammering about how his actions had facilitated Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein¹s human rights abuses.

Mr Lindberg was severely distressed and broke down in tears in the witness stand after being called a fool by a senior inquiry barrister.

Commissioner Terence Cole released his 2065-page report from the inquiry into the AWB $290 million oil-for-food scandal last week but surprisingly did not recommend Mr Lindberg face charges for his involvement in the scandal that has left the Australian wheat industry¹s reputation in tatters.

Paul Galbally represented Mr Lindberg at the inquiry and last week welcomed the findings. Mr Galbally said the Cole inquiry had cleared his client of any wrongdoing.

A formal press statement issued by Mr Galbally¹s firm said Com-missioner Cole had found Mr Lind-berg to be a truthful witness.

³Mr Lindberg was not guilty of any criminal conduct,² the release stated.

³Commissioner Cole found that Mr Lindberg had no cause to suspect that those within AWB dealing with Iraq were doing so other than legally and in accordance with UN sanctions.

³Mr Lindberg deeply regrets what occurred in AWB¹s dealings with Iraq and for the harm that it has caused.

³Mr Lindberg believes he acted honestly and with integrity during his time at AWB and now looks forward to getting on with his life after what has been a difficult year.²

Mr Lindberg was unavailable to speak to Farm Weekly but his wife Lee Lindberg said she knew her husband was innocent from the start.

Mrs Lindberg said her husband was relieved the inquiry was over and had exonerated him from any wrongdoing.

She said the family had been under extreme pressure and has been hounded by the media during the past 12 months. They now hoped to put the matter behind them.

³I knew all along he was an innocent man,² Mrs Lindberg said. ³It¹s been a very stressful time for all of us and we just want some peace and quiet now.²

Mrs Lindberg refused to say if her husband was planning to take up employment in the near future or if he planed to return to work in an agricultural business.

But the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) was not so forgiving.

PGA Grains and Economics policy director Slade Brockman said Mr Lindberg should wear some responsibility for the Iraqi wheat scandal, despite the recommendation that no criminal charges be made against him.

³No senior executive or director of AWB is absolved from blame from the findings of the Cole inquiry,² Mr Brock-man said.

³They may not all have participated in criminal activities, but they all were involved in a company that has spectacularly and comprehensively failed its shareholders and Australian wheatgrowers, and tarnished Australian wheat¹s international reputation.²

Mr Brockman was quick to point out that AWB would face more legal challenges over the wheat scandal.

³The fact that 11 individuals were named as being considered for charges has obscured the bigger picture,² he said.

³The Cole inquiry has recommended that charges be considered against AWB Ltd and AWB International under four sections of two separate Crimes Acts, under two sections of the Criminal Code and under the Banking (Foreign Exchange) Regulations.²

After facing a torrid time at the Cole inquiry in February, Mr Lindberg resigned from his position as AWB head.

Mr Cole praised Mr Lindberg for accepting responsibility for the scandal via his resignation and concluded that the former wheat chief had been severely let down by his own staff.

In other media interviews, Mr Lindberg tried to explain exactly how the kickbacks scandal could have happened on his watch.

³It was set up before I arrived and it continued on,² Mr Lindberg said.

³It should not have continued on and I am not going to speculate why.²

Mr Lindberg said when he started working with AWB in 1990 he did not believe for one moment that anyone at AWB would indulge in unethical behaviour.

He said he failed to question the payments AWB made to trucking firm Alia and subsequently had failed to recognise them as kickbacks to the Hussein regime.

³I understood that trucking was an element of distribution of food in Iraq,² Mr Lindberg said.

³We were required to pay it and it was duly approved. I thought no more of it and had no cause to think more of it.²

Former AWB chief financial officer Paul Ingleby has meanwhile vowed to fight the findings against him in the Cole report.

Commissioner Cole found Mr Ingleby approved trucking fees to Jordanian transport firm Alia as a disguise for funnelling AWB kickbacks to Saddam Hussein¹s regime. Mr Ingleby denied any wrongdoing in a statement last week.

³I reject the findings and will fight any charges laid against me,² Mr Ingelby said.

³I have insisted throughout the inquiry that I was not involved in the matters of the inquiry and I maintain that I have not committed any offence against Australian or international law.²

Mr Ingleby said the inquiry had taken a considerable toll on his family. He was angered by an inquiry non-publication order over his lawyer¹s submissions to Mr Cole.

Commissioner Cole recommended Mr Ingleby and 10 other former executives should be investigated by a special high-level taskforce.

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