ALMOST two decades after Trevor Flugge visited Saddam Hussein's regime for the first time and the Iraqi kickbacks scandal unfolded, the former chairman of the Australian Wheat Board faces his day in court.
Mr Flugge faces four allegations of breaching his director's duties, while former general manager for trading Peter Geary faces 13 allegations of breaching his executive duties. Each breach carries a maximum fine of $200,000.
Mr Flugge, whose photo was splashed across the front pages of the country's newspapers bare-chested and gun-toting during a tour of Iraq, faces fines of up to $800,000 and being banned as a director.
The 10-week civil trial begins today in the Supreme Court of Victoria before Judge Ross Robson and is being brought by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission against Mr Flugge.
"Flugge headed AWB delegations to Iraq in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001," ASIC's third further amended statement of claim, filed for Monday's trial, states.
Despite the extraordinary passage of time, the trial promises to engulf former ministers and senior public officials who are named in court documents and face being called as witnesses to recall the decade-old events, set in the lead-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which ultimately toppled Saddam Hussein and led to his execution in December 2006.
"On 2 April, 1998, Flugge wrote to Tim Fischer, the then deputy prime minister and minister for trade advising of a meeting scheduled with the Iraq minister for trade later that month," the court documents state.
"In response to Australia's decision to place troops in the Gulf region, Iraq intended to cut Australian wheat imports and...be replaced by imports from one of AWB's major competitors, France. Flugge requested that the deputy prime minister provide AWB with a message to pass on to the Iraq minister for trade indicating, among other things, the importance that is attached to the wheat trade between Australia and Iraq," the documents say.
In 2005, the Cole Inquiry, headed by former NSW Supreme Court judge Terence Cole, heard that between 1999 and 2004, the Australian Wheat Board systematically paid more than $US225 million in illicit fees and commissions to Hussein's Iraqi regime, in pursuit of wheat sale contracts, knowingly in contravention of UN sanctions.
ASIC put the civil cases against Mr Flugge and five other former Australian Wheat Board executives on hold in November 2008 to wait for possible criminal charges but in a shock decision in mid-2010, it was revealed the criminal aspects of the investigation had been abandoned.
ASIC re-ignited the civil penalty cases against the six men, which had been initiated in late 2007, over the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in "transport", "discharge" and "sales service fees" to Jordanian-based trucking company Alia, revealed later to be a front for the Iraqi government.
In a pyrrhic victory, ASIC won two of the civil cases in 2013 against former managing director Andrew Lindberg, who paid a penalty of $100,000, and against former chief financial officer Paul Ingleby, who paid a penalty of $40,000. Cases against former directors Michael Long and Charles Stott were dismissed.
A search of the public records revealed the regulator had spent an estimated $15 million on the AWB prosecutions at that time.