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Plot thickens in Aussie Reserve Bank corruption probe

The government investigation into the Reserve Bank of Australia led last week to RBA’s subsidiary, Austrade, and allegations of massive bribes paid to a Vietnamese spy by his Australian lover.

Elizabeth Masamune, a senior trade commissioner with Austrade admitted to an affair with Vietnam’s Colonel Anh Ngoc Luong, a senior official in the state intelligence service. He helped the company secure contracts to print currency. In return he allegedly received bribes of up to AUD$20 million from another RBA subsidiary, Securency.

Masamune insists she thought Luong was nothing more than a well-connected businessman. His close relationship with Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Communist Party secretary and central bank governor, made him invaluable in helping Austrade and RBA close note printing deals with the government. He allegedly helped Securency executives arrange bribes and assured the executives the payments were “the price of doing business in Vietnam.”

Evidence also emerged that as early as 2007, the Australian Government suspected Austrade was using a Vietnamese spy as a middleman to secure contracts in the country. Former senior trade commissioner to Vietnam, Patrick Stringer said, “We had known — we the embassy had suspicions of his status for many years.”  But there was no investigation, Stringer said, because “in places like Vietnam evidence is very hard to come by.

In testimony last month, star witness Mark Ingram said RBA executives kept silent about bribes passed through middlemen to secure deals and that RBA executives knew about the practices. 

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Melanie Lansakara is a researcher for the FCPA Blog members area.

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