Kevin Rudd calls for Utegate inquiry over John Grant claim

| 20.06,09. 09:53 PM |

Kevin Rudd calls for Utegate inquiry over John Grant claim

June 20, 2009 04:04pm

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd says the Australian Federal Police will investigate whether someone impersonated a public servant and made up a fake email that is at the centre of the OzCar scandal engulfing the government.

Mr Rudd said Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull had claimed to be in possession of documentary evidence that indicated his office had lobbied on behalf of Ipswich car dealer John Grant.

Mr Turnbull had now changed his tune and his integrity was at stake, he claimed.

"Today Mr Turnbull is in full retreat on this claim,'' Mr Rudd told reporters in Canberra.

"How easy it is in the business of national politics simply to throw mud at people and then having thrown the mud to run away.

"Mr Turnbull's done that today.''

Last night, Mr Rudd's Government  launched a full inquiry into the Utegate affair amid increasing pressure on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan to resign.

The auditor-general's inquiry will focus on the existence of an email allegedly sent on Mr Rudd's behalf to Godwin Grech, the head of the Government's $2 billion OZ Car scheme, seeking financial help for his friend, used-car salesman John Grant.

The email was purportedly sent from the computer of Mr Rudd's senior economic adviser Andrew Charlton to Mr Grech. But Mr Rudd insisted no such email existed, with his office declaring it an elaborate fraud. The disputed email said: "Hi Godwin

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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. If you can follow up on this asap that would be very useful. Happy to discuss. A".

Mr Rudd's office called on the Opposition to declare what role, if any, it played in creating the alleged email.

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"We believe the email is fake. The Opposition must rule out any involvement in the creation or distribution of this fake email," a spokesman for Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd earlier said an exhaustive search of Dr Charlton's computer found no trace of the email.

"Given that the matters go to questions of integrity, I have decided to request that the auditor-general conduct an inquiry on this matter," Mr Rudd said.

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Senior government figures last night claimed the email was a hoax despite Mr Grech earlier telling a heated Senate hearing that he believed he had received such an email requesting financial aid for Mr Grant.

"My recollection is that there is a short email from the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) to me which simply alerted me to the case of John Grant," he said.

The inquiry also heard evidence linking Treasurer Wayne Swan to Mr Grant's pursuit of funding with key correspondence sent directly to Mr Swan's home office.

As the Government reeled under its biggest crisis since being elected, Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull accused Mr Rudd and Mr Swan of using their offices to "seek advantage for one of their mates".

But the Government struck back, claiming the Opposition Leader heavied a senior prime ministerial adviser during Wednesday's Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball.

Mr Grech - who was repeatedly overruled by his senior colleague David Martine - also said the "initial contact" in relation to Mr Grant's financial problems came from Mr Rudd's office.

Ford Credit also confirmed reports in The Daily Telegraph it had been told of Mr Grant's financial troubles when it was trying to access a $550 million government loan under the OZ Car scheme.

Greg Cohen, the managing director of Ford Credit, said Treasury had made it clear Mr Grant was an "acquaintance" of Mr Rudd.

"He knew him from his dealings in Queensland," Mr Cohen said of the advice he was given.

Mr Grant has been a friend of Mr Rudd's for years.

They are near neighbours in the Brisbane suburb of Norman Park.

His Kia dealership, John Grant Motors, donated a 1996 Mazda ute - the "Ruddmobile" - to Mr Rudd's electorate office before the last election.

Last night, Mr Turnbull accused the Prime Minister and Mr Swan of a "shocking abuse of power".

He said the evidence tabled at the Senate hearing demonstrated "beyond doubt" that the Treasurer had repeatedly misled Parliament.

"We have also heard evidence that suggest the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has also misled the Parliament repeatedly," he said.

"These are grave allegations that reach the highest offices in the government of our nation.

"The Prime Minister and Treasurer have used their offices and taxpayers resources to seek advantage for one of their mates, and then lied about it to Parliament."

The auditor-general will hand down his findings on July 31.

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