$350m boat deal leak revealed
Breach: The Cape Class Patrol Boat, which was the subject of the tender.
The senior official running Customs' biggest-ever procurement, a $350 million purchase of eight new patrol boats, leaked government-in-confidence information to a shipbuilder interested in bidding on the project.
However, an external investigation of the 2010 tender process found it had not been compromised by the leak, and there was no ''inappropriate'' conduct on the part of Nigel Perry, the national director of Maritime Operations Support Division, who remains in his role.
The chief executive of Customs, Mike Pezzullo, has confirmed a senior official, understood to be Mr Perry, was reprimanded. ''Customs and Border Protection can confirm a senior officer was reprimanded for a Code of Conduct breach,'' a spokesman said.
A Fairfax Media investigation has established, however, that the two probity advisers working on the Cape Class Patrol Boat acquisition were never told of the leak, which occurred before the actual tender documents were issued to bidders in 2010.
Initially, the investigation probed ''a number of reports of serious fraud by senior management in the tendering process'', according to internal affairs documents obtained under freedom of information.
Specifically, the complainant, who was a customs officer, claimed that the tender specifications had been drawn up to favour one particular company, believed to be the eventual tender winner, Austal. They also said this company had received ''assistance'', according to a statement from customs.
When the initial request for proposal was issued in mid-2009, some of the potential bidders were surprised by the specifications customs had incorporated. Sources have said they believed these were tailored for only one vessel design, the one promoted by Austal.
''It was pretty obvious to prospective bidders that the tender specifications were drawn in such a way that it would only suit a particular manufacturer,'' one source said.
But these allegations were ultimately proven false by both Customs and an external expert brought in to oversee the matter. Mr Perry was exonerated by this first inquiry.
It was during the course of that investigation, however, that the leak was revealed. Fairfax Media
understands Mr Perry was found to have breached Customs' protocols by emailing government-in-confidence material to one of the companies interested in bidding on the shipbuilding contract.
Customs concluded that the leak was not for personal gain, but a brief of evidence was still prepared and sent to the Commonwealth prosecutors office.
The prosecutor refused to proceed both because of the paucity of the evidence and because Customs had concluded that Mr Perry's motivation was ''to enhance the competitiveness of the process for the benefit of the Commonwealth''.
But as a result of Fairfax Media's inquiries, Mr Pezzullo, newly-installed as head of Customs, has reviewed the history of the affair.
In a statement, he said he was considering a formal review of its management.
''I am particularly concerned about the management of the handling [of] the criminal investigation in relation … to the alleged unauthorised disclosure of material,'' he said.
''It is not clear to me, based on documents I have reviewed, that the internal professional standards function at the time … had the technical capacity or management capability to deal with allegations pertaining to complex procurement.''
None of the industry participants were officially told about any of the secret investigations into the officials running the tender.
And crucially, the two firms involved in probity advice during the acquisition - Jacobs Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers - were also not informed, Fairfax Media has learned.
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