The head of Australia’s trade agency has retired after overseeing the organisation's restructure amid on-going controversy over Austrade’s role in the Reserve Bank bribery scandal.
Peter Grey, a 42-year public service veteran, announced his retirement as Austrade chief executive in an email to staff yesterday.
Since taking up the position as Austrade chief executive officer in March 2010, Mr Grey, 64, has overseen its restructure, with huge emphasis on improving the agency’s awareness of corruption issues affecting Australian companies overseas.
Mr Grey, who previously was Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, Ambassador to Japan and Ambassador to APEC, will remain in the role for short period until a successor if appointed by Trade Minister Craig Emerson.
Austrade has come under scrutiny for its role in a bribery scandal involving RBA currency printing subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia.
Both companies and eight former executives were last year charged by federal police with bribing foreign officials in Nepal, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia in order to win central bank currency supply contracts.
Austrade officials were closely involved in the companies’ affairs and recommended it use overseas agents federal police now allege were part of the bribery conspiracy.
‘‘I appreciate that the past two-and-a-half years have been difficult and unsettling for many staff but I also believe it has been ultimately worthwhile,’’ Mr Grey said.
He said his retirement would not surprise his close colleagues ‘‘as I have been foreshadowing this for some time’’.
The Age today reported that Austrade placed former Australian prime minister Paul Keating and executives from a company owned by transport magnate Lindsay Fox with a man it knew to be a Vietnamese intelligence officer in 2008.
The intelligence officer, Anh Ngoc Luong, was Securency’s agent in Vietnam. Police suspect he may have received up to $20 million in potential bribe money from Securency.
Luong, who Austrade in 2007 declared a senior officer in the Ministry of Public Security, also had a secret affair with Australia’s former trade chief in Vietnam, Elizabeth Masamune.
As part of Austrade’s restructure, at least one senior director who was closely involved in Securency’s overseas dealings was forced out of the agency last year.
An independent expert has been brought in by the Gillard Government to review Austrade’s security protocols in the wake of the RBA bribery scandal.
The expert’s review found big flaws in Austrade’s security protocols and made several recommendations for improvement.