NAB CEO in investigation over luxury resort holiday
National Australia Bank chief executive Andrew Thorburn took a luxury Fiji holiday and a Thermomix arranged through a company under police investigation over accusations it bribed his chief of staff to win contracts from the bank.
Laucala Island Resort in Fiji where rooms costs as much as $24,000 a night.
Fairfax Media can reveal that the NSW police have uncovered information that Mr Thorburn’s former chief of staff, Rosemary Rogers, organised the trip and a Thermomix kitchen appliance using executive events firm, the Human Group.
Asked about the allegations, NAB on Thursday night confirmed a small number of "inadvertent" breaches of the company's policies by Mr Thorburn and that he had been cleared of wrongdoing by the bank's board.
Sources familiar with the case say the firm is suspected of issuing invoices to the NAB to make the bank cover the costs of Mr Thorburn's trip to a resort where the rooms cost between $6000 and $45,000 per night, and a Thermomix worth about $2000.
Detectives are seeking information from NAB about if and when Mr Thorburn reimbursed the Human Group, and the circumstances of the company's decision to pay for the holiday and kitchen appliance and whether there was any discount. It is possible Mr Thorburn was not aware of the Human Group’s involvement because he may have been misled by someone involved in the transactions.
Law enforcement sources said the investigation was ongoing and is focussing on the conduct of Ms Rogers and the Human Group. NSW police declined to comment.
The revelations come as the financial services royal commission continues to exposes damning conduct in the lending sector, with NAB accused in August of criminal breaches of the Corporations Act over its treatment of superannuation customers. Mr Thorburn, along with other major bank chiefs, is expected to be grilled over the bank's alleged failings at the royal commission in two weeks time.
Three sources, including a banking insider, who were interviewed on condition of anonymity said the royal commission had sought information about the Human Group's dealings with NAB and is likely to inquire into what benefits the events company may have tried to provide to bank staff, and whether these benefits were disclosed. This means the alleged conduct of Mr Thorburn and the application of the bank's governance standards may come under scrutiny.
There is no suggestion that Mr Thorburn has done anything wrong and in April he expressed anger and disappointment at the alleged corruption of his former chief of staff, Ms Rogers, and the Human Group.
NAB CEO Andrew Thorburn was appointed to the top job at the bank in August 2014. Credit:Jessica Hromas
NAB's conflict of interest policy which was tendered to the royal commission says: "You must exercise care in the giving and receiving of business related benefits, gifts or entertainment to/from potential and existing customers and product providers and obtain approval from your people leader above specified threshold values."
The policy adds: "You are responsible for identifying personal or business circumstances that may give rise to potential, actual or perceived Conflicts of Interest and for recording those details in the relevant Conflicts of Interest Register."
NAB was set to address the issues in a remuneration report to be released on Friday before it was contacted by Fairfax Media.
In a statement from the report released on Thursday night the bank said "certain matters" had emerged as part of the alleged fraud investigation.
“These included certain control failings and breaches of policy in the office of the CEO, and a small number of unintended breaches of policy by the group CEO. These matters have been resolved and closed to the board’s satisfaction," it said.
Laucala Island Resort has its own submarine that guests can use.
NAB said it was cooperating fully with the police who had asked it to make no further comment.
The Human Group's NSW offices were raided by NSW detectives in April for allegedly paying secret commissions to Ms Rogers in return for her help directing it millions of dollars of contracts from NAB. Police have been assessing if the NAB contracts awarded to the Human Group were grossly inflated or for non-existent services, allowing the company to defraud the bank of tens of millions of dollars.
It has been via these inquiries that fraud taskforce detectives have also uncovered the Human Group's role in arranging a Fiji trip to the private island resort of Laucala and the kitchen appliance for Mr Thorburn. Mr Thorburn's pay packet could stretch to as much as $7.94 million this year if he meets all of his targets
The private island resort is owned by Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz and is only accessible by private jet. It has enticed the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Miranda Kerr and billionaire husband Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel to visit. Facilities include a fleet of boats for guests and a $2 million submarine for underwater jaunts.
A basic one bedroom apartment at the 1400-hectare Laucala resort and full board costs $6000 per night, larger villas will set you back up to $45,000 per night.
One line of inquiry being pursued by police in respect of Human Group’s conduct is whether it was using bank funds it was paid via inflated service contracts to fund benefits it gave to Ms Rogers. That same line of inquiry appears certain to also be applied to Mr Thorburn’s trip and the Thermomix.
There is no suggestion that Mr Thorburn knew that the Human Group was allegedly seeking to gain business benefits from the NAB in its dealings with his chief of staff or himself.
The police probe was triggered in late 2017, after NAB received a whistleblower complaint and notified authorities. Victoria Police declined to comment.
At the time of the police raids in April, it was also revealed that Ms Rogers, a long time NAB employee and chief-of-staff to Mr Thorburn since 2014, had left the bank and was being probed.
When the raids occurred, Mr Thorburn told staff: “If these allegations are proved to be true it is a very serious breach of trust and banking is based on trust. And I, like you, are very proud of our company and what banking stands for and these sort of allegations really hurt our reputation.”
Mr Thorburn said at the time that if the Human Group had acted corruptly then “the bank is the victim.”
The senior police officer leading the probe, Detective Superintendent Linda Howlett, also said in April that her team would work with NAB to conduct an exhaustive forensic inquiry.
Ms Rogers held the position of chief-of-staff for nine years, including under former chief executive Cameron Clyne, before her resignation in December last year.
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