Australian media reported this week that the World Bank had banned five subsidiaries of one of the country’s iconic engineering companies for allegedly making “inappropriate payments” to secure contracts in foreign countries, including Sri Lanka where an official working for the then Minister Maithripala Sirisena is said to have demanded ‘political donations’.
The media reports said two Australian companies — SMEC (Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation) and Sundance Resources — were facing bribery investigations by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
They had allegedly paid kickbacks to secure World Bank-funded project contracts in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Republic of Congo.
SMEC, one of the biggest Australian companies to benefit from WB contracts, was involved in a 2009 dam project and 2011 sewerage project in Sri Lanka.
In on-going investigations, SMEC confirmed that a “request for a political donation” was made by an official in then Irrigation Minister Maithripala Sirisena’s office, but insists that no donation was eventually made.
In Colombo, the President’s Media Director Dharmasiri Ekanayake told the Sunday Times yesterday he would respond to the Australian media report soon after he consults the President. Asked what happened when the same newspapers ran similar reports earlier this year, he said “We sent a response. Instructions were given to take legal action. I am not sure what action has been taken so far.”
At the time the news first broke, President Sirisena responded to the Australian media saying he had no knowledge of this incident and requested further information if any, that his officials had asked for kick-backs.
The media reports further stated that “coming in the wake of foreign bribery allegations implicating Tabcorp, Leighton Holdings and BHP Billiton, the revelations will put pressure on the Turnbull government to reform Australia’s failing anti-corruption framework.“A Fairfax Media and 7.30 investigation has uncovered internal documents from Perth-based listed mining company Sundance Resources that suggest it bribed the leader of the Republic of Congo as it sought presidential approval in 2007 for one of Africa’s most ambitious iron ore projects”, the newspaper states.
It says the documents, now being evaluated by AFP reveal a secret share deal worth millions of dollars was brokered with the son of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso. In return, the company allegedly secured the President’s backing for its project. Sundance has launched an internal inquiry into the claims.
Referring to SMEC, The Sydney Morning Herald states “the firm’s overseas staff allegedly bribed officials to secure a A$2.3 million aid-funded sewerage project in Sri Lanka in 2011 and, in partnership with a Canadian company, a A$2.2 million power plant project in Bangladesh in 2007.
Company emails also reveal an adviser of President Sirisena allegedly demanded a political “donation” to be paid by SMEC when Mr Sirisena was a cabinet minister, it adds.The emails show a plot to skim the money off a World Bank-funded dam project in 2009. In return, the dam contract to SMEC, worth $1.82 million was to be approved. SMEC’s Sri Lankan manager, who was recently sacked, wrote in emails to two Australian colleagues that he wanted to inform of the size of an alleged kickback to be paid and that he needed to “prioritise” certain payments to unnamed parties “since the signing of the contract would depend” on it.
President Sirisena at the time the Australian media first published these details said he would also ask the Attorney General of Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations.