THE man who led the Australian Federal Police investigation into the AWB oil-for-food scandal has alleged he was offered a promotion in return for shutting down the probe.
In an explosive statement lodged in the Federal Court, former AFP agent Ross Fusca said another senior officer had told him that if he could ''make the oil-for-food taskforce go away, he would be appointed as next co-ordinator''.
Former AFP agent Ross Fusca. Photo: Jason South
Mr Fusca, a 30-year AFP veteran, has declared the inquiry was never given enough resources and was shut down prematurely.
And he has claimed the police's AWB taskforce - which ran between late 2006 and August 2009 - had a high-level political informant who indicated that federal government officials had been aware of AWB's payment of kickbacks.
In an interview with The Age and ABC television's 7.30 program, Mr Fusca said he believed the offer of a promotion represented an improper inducement.
Mr Fusca's Federal Court statement also alleges that a day after the offer of promotion was made, another senior AFP officer had pressured him to finish the taskforce's work prematurely.
Court documents state: "[The officer] insisted that the brief be completed by April 2009, claiming that the taskforce was out of budget. The applicant [Mr Fusca] maintained his position that an April 2009 deadline for the brief was unachievable" and that the earliest it could be finished was December 2009.
In a statement sent to The Age last night, the AFP said it was aware of Mr Fusca's claims in the court but it could not comment on ongoing judicial proceedings.
The AFP shut down the taskforce in August 2009, handing responsibility for the case to the
corporate watchdog ASIC. In a media statement at the time, the AFP said its decision was partly based on advice given by senior barrister Peter Hastings, QC, who warned that a criminal prosecution of former AWB managers was unlikely to be successful and not in the public interest.
But Mr Fusca said that when Mr Hastings had given his advice, the taskforce had "months and months" of work to complete in order to gather all the relevant evidence.
The AFP yesterday refused to release Mr Hastings' 2009 advice, but said the taskforce had confronted a ''number of challenges'' beyond its control.
The Age has also obtained earlier confidential advice from Mr Hastings, which was written in April 2008 and states that the AFP had a sound legal foundation on which to build a criminal case if it could prove AWB employees had hidden the kickbacks in wheat contracts to Iraq.
"I agree that there is a proper basis for pursuing a case of fraud to the effect that … [officials were] deceived into granting approval [to AWB] for the export of wheat to Iraq,'' Mr Hastings' advice states.
Mr Fusca is calling for a parliamentary inquiry to examine the handling of the AWB investigation.
He resigned from the AFP in late 2010 and is alleging it breached the Fair Work Act by mistreating him after he raised internal concerns about mismanagement of the AWB taskforce. He is seeking damages.
The AFP said last night that it had dealt appropriately with Mr Fusca's concerns internally, and that the AWB taskforce had had more than 20 state and federal officers and a multimillion-dollar budget before it was wound down.
The federal police-led taskforce was set up in late 2006 as a result of the Cole royal commission.
The commission found that AWB Ltd and some of its executives had corruptly paid $300 million in kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein, but that no Australian government officials had known of these payments.
But Mr Fusca said a credible political informant had provided the AFP with intelligence that suggested ''senior government officials were aware … of the kickbacks''.
Mr Fusca's career started a downward slide in late 2008 after he wrote an email to his superiors complaining about the taskforce's ongoing and "severe staffing problem".
The email, sent on December 18, 2008, stated: "Our counterparts at ASIC and the Victoria Police have raised questions on how serious the AFP is taking this taskforce … if this attitude continues and the taskforce is subjected to various degrees of contempt, then you will need to find yourself another co-ordinator. I refuse to be treated like a fool. The taskforce need proper support. This is a high priority AFP national investigation."
Mr Fusca was given lesser duties after the email was sent. He then took extended holiday and stress leave, but returned to the AFP in March 2009, after which time, he has alleged, he was sidelined and offered only menial work.
He has alleged his subsequent efforts to have his concerns dealt with internally were ignored, a point denied yesterday by the AFP.
Mr Fusca's lawyer, Nicole Spicer, said his treatment by the AFP was appalling and the community had lost a committed and honest police officer.
Mr Fusca's concerns about the management of the multi-agency inquiry is shared by other officers, including a still-serving agent who said in a 2010 email that: "Only over time, will the damage that has been done to this job be exposed. The AFP has dropped the ball."
Mr Fusca said the decision to leave the inquiry to ASIC was a "backwards step" because of the corporate watchdog's limited resources and its poor track record in prosecuting white-collar crime.
ASIC has spent five years pursuing six former AWB senior figures in civil penalty cases. So far, only one of these six men - former chief executive Andrew Lindberg - has agreed with ASIC to a settlement involving an admission he breached his director's duties, the payment of a $100,000 penalty and, subject to court approval, a ban on directing a company until 2014.
But Mr Lindberg has not admitted to any malfeasance involving the actual payment of $300 million in kickbacks to Iraq.