Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Utegate: PM, Treasurer Cleared; Treasury Official Admits Faking Email

By Rich Bowden

Img: Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. Credit: Adam Carr.

Godwin Gretch, the under-fire Treasury Official at the centre of the now-notorious "Utegate" affair, pre-empted an Auditor-General's report early today by admitting he concocted a vital email used to attack the Rudd government. The "evidence" was used by the Opposition to call for the Prime Minister and Treasurer's resignation over alleged special financial favours for a friend. The report, released after the official's statement, exonerated Mr Rudd and his Treasurer Wayne Swan of any wrongdoing in the affair.

Mr Gretch was reported by The Australian this morning as saying he fabricated an email alleging special favours for Ipswich car dealer John Grant under the OzCar scheme after Grant, a friend of the prime minister, had loaned the PM a car for his election campaign.

The Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull led the accusations against the PM and Treasurer after a Senate enquiry in June heard from Mr Gretch that an email existed from the PM's office that showed special treatment for Mr Grant. The special favours was alleged to have occurred under a government car financing scheme designed to improve Australia's car dealers access to funding. This email was later found by police to be a fake after investigations of Mr Gretch's home computer.

Speaking to The Australian Mr Gretch said he had fabricated the evidence under pressure from the Opposition in the hope that they would pass the OzCar bill in the closely-divided Senate.

"My concern was that the issue of Grant could be used to frustrate the passage of the bill," he said.

He described his actions in fabricating the email as an "error of judgement."

However the "utegate" affair, rather than damage the government, has instead rebounded on the Opposition Leader, throwing doubt on his future as the country's alternative leader. Mr Turnbull has mortified members of his own party after he led the attack on the Prime Minister and Treasurer in June based solely on the fabricated evidence.

Mr Turnbull and Senator Eric Abetz, who was behind the questioning of Gretch in the Senate enquiry, are alleged to have met with Gretch at Mr Turnbull's wife's office in Sydney to discuss the email and testimony one week before Mr Gretch was to give evidence before the Senate committee.

Mr Gretch, though working for the government as a senior Treasury official, has been accused of passing information to the Opposition, acting as a Coalition "mole" within Treasury.

The allegations against Turnbull go further than criticism of his political judgement, political commentators have noted. According to Gretch, pressure was placed on Gretch to release the email designed to bring down the Prime Minister. Turnbull is alleged to have "intimate involvement" in the coaching of Gretch and the handling of confidential Treasury information.

The government has said Mr Turnbull's position is now untenable and he should apologise and resign.

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