Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Australian police question Turnbull over fake e-mail

UTE DISPUTE: After a scandalous e-mail turned out to be fake, an Australian official said it was ‘appalling’ that the opposition hadn’t opened its computers for investigation

REUTERS , SYDNEY

Australian opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull looks on during an official reception at Parliament House in Canberra last Wednesday. Turnbull came under growing pressure to quit after a fake e-mail destroyed his claims that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used his influence to help a friend.

PHOTO: AP

Australian opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday he had given a statement to police about a fake e-mail at the heart of claims that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd misled parliament.

It follows a week of political controversy over the so-called “Utegate” affair, which relates to a small truck, known in Australia as a “ute,” that was loaned to Rudd by a car dealer friend for electoral purposes.

The e-mail in question allegedly came from Rudd’s office and was cited by the opposition as evidence that Rudd had lied over allegations he helped his friend gain access to a government scheme known as “OzCar,” set up to help dealers in the global economic crisis.

But the opposition tactics largely backfired when an intensive search of government computers failed to locate the e-mail and a copy of it turned up at the house of a treasury official, Godwin Grech, who Turnbull has admitted meeting.

Rudd called in the police a week ago and the government spent most of last week calling for Turnbull to resign. Police have declared the e-mail a fake.

Turnbull told Channel Ten television yesterday that he had given a statement on the matter to the Australian Federal Police.

“I’ve met with the federal police, I’ve given them a statement,” Turnbull said. “Let the police do their work.”

However, Turnbull denied that the row, in which the opposition also accused Treasurer Wayne Swan of misleading parliament, had damaged his leadership of the main opposition Liberal Party. Turnbull has denied ever having a copy of the e-mail.

“The party is united. We have survived a difficult week,” he said.

Australian Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said yesterday that Turnbull had “made an idiot of himself” by accusing the government of lying “on the basis of an email that turned out to be fake.”

Tanner also said the opposition clearly had no intention of opening up its own computers for inspection and should do so.

“Given the nature of the potential crimes we’re dealing with here, that is appalling,” Tanner told Channel Nine.

The allegations have had little impact on Rudd’s public standing and he remains far ahead in the polls, although Turnbull has been gradually clawing back ground since taking over as opposition leader last year.

Rudd’s current three-year term ends in late 2010 and there has been speculation he may seek an early election, although the prime minister has said he intends to serve his full term.

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