x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'Utegate' email a fake

Australian police say the email at the centre of the 'Utegate' scandal was a fake, discrediting calls for the prime minister Kevin Rudd to resign.

Australian police on Monday said the email at the centre of the 'Utegate' scandal was a fake, blowing a hole in opposition calls for the prime minister Kevin Rudd to resign. The apparent forgery was revealed after a police raid on the home of Godwin Grech, a senior treasury official whose testimony to a senate inquiry sparked the row. "Preliminary results of those forensic examinations indicate that the email referred to at the centre of this investigation has been created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the email," a police statement said.

The announcement capped a day of high political drama with Mr Rudd, the treasurer Wayne Swan and the opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose jobs were all on the line, embroiled in furious exchanges in parliament. Mr Turnbull's argument now appears seriously weakened after he spent days calling for Mr Rudd's job, basing claims that he misled parliament on the discredited e-mail. The note, supposedly sent by Mr Rudd's economic adviser and published by weekend newspapers here, had appeared to back up allegations that the prime minister helped a car-dealer friend seek government funds.

But Mr Rudd dismissed the correspondence as "false, fictitious and a forgery" and turned the attack on the opposition, describing the events as the "sordid Turnbull e-mail forgery affair". "This fraudulent e-mail was the rock on which the leader of the opposition has constructed his case against me and the treasurer," Mr Rudd said. "This rock has now disintegrated into sand." Mr Swan also accused Mr Turnbull of "grubby opportunism."

"He must pledge today to make available all of the resources used by the opposition for a police inquiry, because it is clear the grubby opportunism of the leader of the opposition knows no bounds," he said. As the politicians argued in parliament, police searched Mr Grech's home with the help of IT experts, later announcing that the email in question appeared fake. Mr Grech on Friday told a senate inquiry that he believed Mr Rudd and Mr Swan had weighed in on behalf of car-dealer John Grant, who was seeking access to government funds.

He admitted that he had no proof of intervention by either man's offices. But on Saturday, media published a transcript of the email supposedly sent by Mr Rudd's economics adviser Andrew Charlton. "Hi Godwin, the PM has asked if the car dealer financing vehicle is available to assist a Queensland dealership, John Grant Motors, who seems to be having trouble getting finance," the transcript said. "If you can follow up on this asap that would be very useful. Happy to discuss. A."

Mr Turnbull, who has been calling stridently for Mr Rudd and Mr Swan to resign since Friday, moved to censure the treasurer for not disclosing his involvement in the "deals-for-mates" scandal. "What we have here is a shocking abuse of power," Mr Turnbull said. "We have a Treasurer who has used his considerable influence to get a favour for a mate. And not just any mate - a mate who is a benefactor of the prime minister," he added.

Mr Grant is a neighbour of the prime minister who once lent him a "ute" or utility vehicle for use in his Brisbane constituency. The row constitutes a tough challenge for the government of Mr Rudd, which has enjoyed strong public support since taking power in late 2007. *AFP