AUSTRALIA may be sheltering hundreds of millions of black dollars funnelled out of South Pacific countries, including Papua New Guinea, by corrupt politicians and public officials, a conference in Brisbane on law and order and good governance in Australia and the Pacific region has been told, The National reports.
This money laundering was being tolerated by a disinterested Australian federal government, the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reported, quoting a good governance expert Prof Jason Sharman of the University of Griffith.
The newspaper quoted Sharman as saying that PNG, in particular, was believed to suffer from the avarice of some of its officials and politicians.
He added that a senior police officer recently claimed the country lost as much as 50% of its budget – about A$1.9 billion – every year through fraud and corruption.
Sharman called on the Australian government to drop its "nonchalant attitude" towards the problem, which, he said, hamstringed regional aid, governance and security policies.
"Recent research on grand corruption has emphasised the importance of following the money trail to determine where corrupt senior officials hide their stolen assets," he said.
"The answer is often that wealth looted from poor countries is held in rich countries with large, stable financial centres and which share historical ties with the victim country."
But, he said, Canberra had displayed a lack of interest in pursuing foreign corruption in Australia. An example of this, he said, was the bribery scandal enveloping the Reserve Bank in relation to foreign bribes allegedly paid by employees of its part-owned subsidiaries, Note Printing Australia and Securency.
The government has ignored that case and has three times blocked a move in the Senate to launch a parliamentary inquiry.
"The government doesn't care about Australia playing host to the proceeds of foreign corruption," Sharman said.
He said he first became concerned about the role of Australia in embezzlement and corruption in the South Pacific while undertaking research for the World Bank about the problem in Africa.
"If you're a corrupt leader and you're stealing millions ... through embezzlement or taking bribes, then you don't want to keep it at home, you want to put it somewhere international."
He said his research showed that money tended to flow to the former coloniser, or the nearest thing. Given that many South Pacific politicians and officials study in Australia and have family and friends here, Australia would be the closest thing to a coloniser.
The SMH said evidence gathered by several international organisations had made particular claims about politicians from Papua New Guinea – which had undergone a minerals boom in recent years – buying property in Queensland with their corrupt profits.