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Leighton Holdings corruption cases hang around like a bad smell

Bryan Edwards

In Australia and elsewhere, the multitude of actions relating to bribery and corruption at Leighton Holdings (see here ) continues in both the criminal and civil courts.

The company's annual report for 2018 says "During 2018, ASIC brought proceedings against a former CFO of the Company relating to falsification of company records in the 2010/11 financial year. The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has not alleged that the falsification has misstated the accounts of the Company in the relevant period, nor has the Company been charged with any offence....In November 2013, ASIC made public statements about its cooperation with the AFP in the AFP’s investigation. On 28 March 2014, ASIC informed the Senate Estimates Committee that it had commenced a formal investigation into potential breaches of the Corporations Act relating to a number of matters being investigated by the AFP. ASIC has now advised CIMIC that its investigation has concluded and it will take no further action.The Company has become aware that the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the US Department of Justice are inquiring into related matters. The SFO has announced it has charged individuals, neither of whom are employees of the Company, and a company, which is not a member of the CIMIC Group, with offences. Those matters will be tried in the UK Crown Court commencing 6 January 2020.The Company continues to cooperate with the AFP investigation. The Company does not know when the investigation will be concluded."

Information in relation to the involvement with the USA's DoJ is scant. A note in the department's 2016 Human Rights Report relating to Iraq says "In March media reported on a corruption scandal involving the Ministry of Oil, South Oil Company, and Minister of Higher Education Hussein al-Shahristani. Unaoil, a company based in Monaco, allegedly funneled millions of dollars from U.S. and European clients to government officials as bribes for government contracts. No arrests were made by year’s end. " In particular, a search of the Department of Justice reveals no entries for Leighton Holdings or CIMIC. There is nothing about the reported "investigation agreement." Indeed, the only "official" reference this newspaper found was an ASX filing on 1 March this year headed "CIMIC’S COOPERATION ON LEGACY INVESTIGATIONS" It says "Since 2012, CIMIC Group has provided updates regarding the investigations so far into the Group’s legacy international business. These updates related to the past possible breaches of its Code of Ethics by ex-employees responsible for the Leighton International business.As part of CIMIC’s cooperative approach, CIMIC has entered into an investigation agreement with the US Department of Justice which will complement the existing cooperation with the Australian Federal Police."

In February this year, the company reported an increase in net profit of some 11%. Dividends rose 15% and its shares rose. By May, that was all over: "CIMIC market value plummets after analyst questions accounting practices," said Global Construction Review. Shares fell by more than 10% in a week after GMT Research, an analyst in Hong Kong, said CIMIC had inflated profits by around 100% in the last two years, by as much as A$1bn, through “aggressive revenue recognition, acquisition accounting and avoidance of JV losses. “CIMIC’s refusal to provide substantive answers to our questions suggests it has something to hide.” As of today, it is trading at just under AUD37. That is matching its one-year low. It it fell more than 17% in a day in the middle of this month after it released figures showing a dramatic shortfall against its own predictions.

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