AUSTRALIA’S trade agency arranged for former prime minister Paul Keating and executives from a company owned by transport magnate Lindsay Fox to work with the Vietnamese spy chief at the centre of the Reserve Bank bribery scandal.
Austrade brokered an arrangement for the Fox-owned Armaguard and Mr Keating – who was helping the company – to use Anh Ngoc Luong to make introductions to important Vietnamese government officials in 2008.
Austrade put Armaguard and Mr Keating with Mr Luong despite the Australian embassy in Hanoi having a year earlier declared in a ”strictly confidential” letter he was a senior officer in the Ministry of Public Security – Vietnam’s equivalent of ASIO.
Austrade’s decision to set up Armaguard and Mr Keating with Mr Luong – who Austrade knew was a foreign intelligence officer – risked exposing them to potential demands for bribes or other payments which may be illegal under Australian law.
The Age wants to make clear that neither Armaguard nor Mr Keating was aware of Mr Luong’s status as a foreign intelligence officer. Neither did Armaguard nor Mr Keating have any financial dealings with Mr Luong or his company CFTD Ltd.
Mr Keating said yesterday: ”Prompted, in recollection, I did meet a Vietnamese national who I understand was recommended to Armaguard by Austrade. This, no doubt, was Anh Ngoc Luong. My recollection is that Mr Luong was a non-active participant in a corporate discussion convened by Armaguard. I had no business with Mr Luong before that time and have had none since.
”Immediately subsequent to that period, Armaguard decided not to engage in any of its traditional business activities in Vietnam,” he said.
Armaguard declined to answer questions. It is believed it was in Vietnam to pursue business opportunities for its currency management systems. It has not entered into any business arrangements in Vietnam.
Austrade also arranged for other Australians to work with Mr Luong in the period after it determined his status as a Vietnamese intelligence officer.
An executive from one Australian company who was introduced to Mr Luong by Austrade in 2007-08 told The Age he had seen him in a military uniform one day, and was introduced to him by an Austrade official the next day at a meeting at which he was wearing a suit.
The executive, who asked not to be named, said it was made clear to him by Austrade staff that Mr Luong would need a commission payment for any deals he helped broker.
He said his company dropped its pursuit of Vietnamese contracts. He said Austrade staff constantly referred to Securency’s success in Vietnam.
Austrade has been severely damaged by its close relationship to Mr Luong and its exposure to the allegedly corrupt dealings of Securency and sister-firm Note Printing Australia.
The Age this year revealed a secret affair between Mr Luong and Austrade’s former senior trade commissioner to Vietnam, Elizabeth Masamune.
Austrade is reviewing Ms Masamune’s top-secret security clearance after she failed to declare the affair to ASIO. She has been questioned by federal police but has not been charged.
An Austrade spokesman last night would not answer direct questions about its involvement with Armaguard and Mr Keating. It was still reviewing all interactions in Vietnam involving Mr Luong and Australian companies.