One of Australia’s biggest consultancy firms is investigating its own former chief executive, after a whistleblower alleged Luke Sayers had improperly influenced a public company getting the firm’s travel account.
PwC Australia fronted up to a Senate inquiry into the management and assurance of integrity by consultancy services in Canberra on Friday, established in the wake of the revelations the firm had misused confidential government tax briefings to shape clients’ strategies.
The inquiry heard Mr Sayers – who is also the president of the Carlton football club – was being investigated over his conduct while at PwC.
PwC was forced to sell its government consultancy business – valued at up to $1bn – for $1 last year, after it was revealed that senior figures had profited from passing on government secrets to clients.
Up to 30 partners and staff were found to have been involved. Mr Sayers was not accused of being personally involved, but was running PwC at the time.
Then, this week, the Australian Financial Review reported PwC had received a complaint that alleged Mr Sayers had improperly influenced publicly-listed company Helloworld getting the firm’s travel account in 2016.
According to reports, Mr Sayers was allegedly given access to then-finance minister Mathias Cormann and then-treasurer Josh Frydenberg, through Helloworld’s chief executive Andrew Burnes – who ran the federal Liberal Party at the time.
PwC’s chief risk officer Jan McCahey confirmed the firm had responded to the original complainant.
“It has been forwarded to our ethics team. We have provided the opportunity or the suggestion that the individual might like to lodge the items or lodge the document into our tech system directly so that if there were informational questions, we would ask them that they could correspond with us on a confidential basis,” she told the committee.
The committee also heard there were now nine ongoing investigations regarding the tax leaks matter, including three investigations that are “well advanced”.
“So the facts and circumstances identified through those three (investigations) will be significant informants of the next six as to what role the next six played,” TPB chair Peter de Cure said.
“(We) intend to pursue those investigations in the course in the ordinary course of this year.
“I don’t want to talk about the exact time frames … for the purposes of protecting the probity of the investigation.”
Mr de Cure hit out at PwC Australia over their refusal to provide the regulator with a copy of a key report which found six members of the firm received tax information but did not know it was confidential.
Mr de Cure said although the firm had refused to hand over the report, he had a good idea who the “dirty six” were.
“We have asked for the report formally and the response we got was that PwC Australia don’t have a copy of it and are unable to give it to us,” he said.
“I’ve read the relevant emails. I didn’t read them for the purpose of trying to conclude who the Dirty Six are.”