TWO senior AWB Ltd executives have quit the bealeagured wheat giant.
Their resignations, effective immediately, coincided with the appearance of Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Prime Minister John Howard before the witness box at the Cole oil-for-food inquiry.
In a statement released to the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) signed by acting chief executive Peter Polson, AWB announced the resignation of its two company and executive secretaries Richard Fuller and Jim Cooper.
Both have received a grilling before the Cole inquiry, though an AWB spokesman said their resignations were unrelated and part of a broader restructure that was likely to see one "pure" company secretary appointed.
Dr Fuller and Mr Cooper follow in the footsteps of former AWB managing director Andrew Lindberg, who jumped ship in February two weeks after appearing before the inquiry with his position looking increasingly untenable.
Dr Fuller, who joined AWB in 2000 and whose salary package was valued at $467,000 last year, was one of three ex-WorkCover Victoria employees to follow their former boss, Mr Lindberg, to AWB.
Dr Fuller, who was responsible for the management of the managing director's office at AWB, first entered the inquiry's spotlight after authorising a statement made in the name of Mr Lindberg to the ASX three days into the inquiry's public hearings.
The then managing director, who was in the witness stand at the time, denied having seen or authorising the statement, which the inquiry alleged misled the stock exchange and was later withdrawn and an apology issued.
Dr Fuller has been a central figure at the inquiry; his notes of board meetings including the comment "Wisdom of hindsight. Wished we hadn't done that" which he recorded then director John Thame as saying in a meeting in early 2005 frequently sent the metropolitan media into a frenzy.
Dr Fuller told the inquiry AWB had engaged a US crisis management consultant to help it deal with the fallout from the United Nation's Volcker inquiry into the oil-for-food program and who had pushed for it to come with an "over-apology" the content of which AWB is still fighting to keep secret.
Dr Fuller is also the one who told the inquiry he had not been able to find a so-called batch of "cowboy documents" given to him by AWB's chief counsel Jim Cooper.
Following an internal inquiry into alleged kickbacks paid to Iraq, Dr Fuller described the situation as being "as bad as it gets".
Mr Cooper, who also joined AWB in 2000 and last financial year received a package worth nearly $290,000 after being elevated to company secretary status, has also made headlines during the inquiry.
Mr Cooper headed AWB's internal investigation into allegations of kickbacks to Iraq in 2003, dubbed Project Rose, which never resulted in a final report.
Mr Cooper last month told the inquiry he knew Alia the Jordanian trucking company AWB used to move its wheat inside Iraq was part-owned by the Iraq Ministry of Transport as early as July 2004.
However, he said he was ordered to remove a slide explaining that fact from a PowerPoint presentation he was due to give to the boards of AWBL and AWB International that month by Mr Lindberg and could not recall whether he actually passed that information on to the boards.