On March the 17th it was alleged by the Murdoch press that Senator Ross Lightfoot paid over to Kurdish representatives some $25 000 on behalf of Woodside Petroleum to assist it in securing contracts in Iraq.
Headlines with Guns, smugglers, freedom fighters, childrens hospitals, accusations & denials by Lightfoot all followed in the days after.
However the real issue that Lightfoot has consistently used his official positions to push his own financial barrow was seemingly missed.
Hes been at it for a long time. Almost 20 yrs ago, when he was a State MP, Lightfoot went on an official parliamentary study trip to China but when he got there, he and fellow Liberal MP George Cash decided they would use the opportunity to lobby on behalf of A-Cap Developments Ltd, a gold mining company. They were directors of the company and stood to make significant financial gains from contracts with China.
The similarity between the two are clear.
Lightfoot has been working closely with Woodsides Kurdish connection, Professor Robert Amin.
They want to make sure Woodside gets an oil contract with the Kurds, and Lightfoot makes a substantial return on his investment in Woodside shares (though he dumped them when he got caught).
Woodside briefs Lightfoot on its projects. A Woodside consultant (Amin) paid for Lightfoot to travel to Iraq, a fact that Lightfoot preferred not to declare despite Senate rules. Woodside put $20 000 into the university centres bank account, and instructed Amin to withdraw it as cash and deliver it to Iraq. Amin gave the money to Simco Halmet, and Halmet & Lightfoot went to Iraq to deliver the money.
Whether Lightfoot touched the money or not (his mere presence must have lent an air of official sanction, which Woodside would appreciate), it is impossible to believe he didnt at least know about it.
When he visited Iraq in July 2004, he was struck by the plight of the little mites in a run-down childrens hospital, and I thought I must do something about this. Six months later, hes present when the very same hospital accepts a $20 000 donation from his travelling partner, courtesy of a company he owns shares in, and organised by the man who accompanied him on that July trip, but he didnt know a thing about it?
Pardon my cynicism, but bullshit. Lightfoot initially told the press he negotiated the donation, but later changed his story.
And then theres this little excerpt from Lightfoots official report on his trip:
Professor Amin from Curtin University telephoned. Told him the Woodside donation had been presented to PM Fatah, who in turn gave the donation to his principal secretary.
Why would Amin ring Lightfoot to make sure the cash reached its destination if the good senator knew nothing about it?
There are lots of other inconsistencies. For example, Halmet says he brought $5600 from Australia and scrounged up $16,000-odd from his family when he got there. There are apparently no banks in Kurdistan ?(thats why they needed to bring cash), yet Lightfoot reports that they handed over new American bills and he even remembers they were crisp. No banks, but they still found $20 000 in crisp new bills? Pull the other one.
And now questions have been raised about some of Lightfoots other investments:
Some of his share trades have shown remarkable prescience. In February he notified the Senate he had bought shares in WMC Resources.
Speculation had been rife that BHP Billiton would make a counterbid for WMC but was waiting for the decision of the Treasurer, Peter Costello - which eventually came three days after Senator Lightfoot notified the Senate he had bought WMC shares - to approve the Swiss company Xstratas takeover. He has made more than 50 per cent on that investment.
Since he bought shares in the oil minnow Hardman Resources in Sept. 2003 its shares have more than doubled. Eight days after he notified the Senate of his Hardman interest it reported positive results from a well it was drilling in a joint venture with Woodside Petroleum.
His Woodside shares gained about 17 per cent before he sold them. Based on his holding of 875 shares, he made more than $3000, less brokerage.
There is nothing wrong with senators trading in shares, but there is a problem when they habitually fail to make the appropriate declarations especially when they abuse their parliamentary position to push those financial interests.
To borrow his disgusting turn of phrase, Ross Lightfoot is the bottom colour on the spectrum of propriety.