Australian central bank governor Glenn Stevens on Friday insisted there had been no attempt to cover-up alleged bribery at its note-printing subsidiaries as he won support from senior politicians.
Pressure mounted this week for an independent inquiry into the Reserve Bank of Australia’s handling of the scandal, but Stevens said it had “at all times” dealt appropriately with authorities and responded honestly to questions.
“There was no attempt to hide any information,” he said in a testimony to a parliamentary committee.
Eight executives from two firms either wholly or partly-owned by the bank — NPA and Securency — are facing claims they conspired to bribe officials at foreign banks to secure contracts to make plastic banknotes.
The scandal was exposed by Australian media in mid-2009 and police were called in, but a confidential memo emerged this week suggesting at least one senior RBA official knew of the allegations long before they became public.
The Sydney Morning Herald said it showed recently retired deputy governor Ric Battellino was given a detailed memo cataloguing alleged bribery and corruption inside NPA, or Note Printing Australia, in 2007.
Reports said the memo contradicted several statements made by Stevens to a federal parliamentary committee in 2011 that the RBA did not know of bribes and corruption before the 2009 media reports.
The development sparked a media frenzy and calls for an independent inquiry by the Greens party, but Stevens denied failing to alert police fast enough.
While it had been claimed the memo pointed to corruption, legal advisers “did not view it that way”, he said.
“It is completely without foundation to suggest that this process … represented an attempt at a ‘cover up’ by anyone in the Reserve Bank,” said Stevens.
He added that the bank had done a lot of work to tighten controls at its two note-making companies.
“The Reserve Bank condemns corrupt or questionable behaviour of any kind,” he said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan both threw their support behind Stevens.
“He’s a first-class public servant and he has made a comprehensive statement about all of these matters,” said Swan.