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Australia police say ’Utegate’ email is fake

world Updated: Jun 22, 2009 19:59 IST

Australian police on Monday said an email at the centre of a scandal that has rocked the country’s politics was a fake, blowing a hole in opposition calls for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to resign.

The apparent forgery in the “Utegate” scandal 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 Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose jobs were all on the line, embroiled in furious exchanges in parliament.

Turnbull’s argument now appears seriously weakened after he spent days calling for Rudd’s job, basing claims that he misled parliament on the discredited email.

The note, supposedly sent by 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 Rudd dismissed the correspondence as “false, fictitious and a forgery” and turned the attack on the opposition, describing the events as the “sordid Turnbull email forgery affair.”

“This fraudulent email was the rock on which the leader of the opposition has constructed his case against me and the Treasurer,” Rudd said. “This rock has now disintegrated into sand.” Swan also accused 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 Grech’s home with the help of IT experts, later announcing that the email in question appeared fake.

Grech on Friday told a senate inquiry that he believed Rudd and 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 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.”

Turnbull, who has been calling stridently for Rudd and 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,” 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.

Grant is a neighbour of the prime minister who once lent him a “ute” or utility vehicle -- Australia’s ubiquitous two-seater car with a flat-bed back -- for use in his Brisbane constituency.

The row constitutes a tough challenge for the government of Rudd, which has enjoyed strong public support since taking power in late 2007.

Swan’s office released 22 emails on Monday which he said showed that the treasury received many representations on behalf of car dealers and not just from Grant.

Swan said the correspondence showed “beyond doubt” that other car dealers were receiving as much, if not more, attention from the Treasury as Grant.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, I stand behind my comments in the parliament 100 per cent and this correspondence leaves Mr Turnbull’s shabby fake email smear campaign lying in tatters,” Swan said in a statement.

The emails, sent in April and May, concern two unnamed car dealers and their need for assistance with finance under the OzCar scheme, and were circulated among a number of top treasury officials, Rudd’s office and the Motor Trades Association of Australia.