The Art of Lying After Getting Caught

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[Pubic Relations]
When you're caught doing something horribly wrong, you could apologize... or you could hire a firm to do it for you.

Faced with a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the payment of approximately $A300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government, in breach of the United Nations' Iraq Oil-for-Food Program, the Australian wheat trader AWB Limited hired crisis management guru Peter Sandman to help it draft an apology. The Australian inquiry released e-mails between Sandman and AWB, which reveal that Sandman's proposed confessional statement was watered down by ABW's other PR adviser, Ian Smith from Gavin Anderson & Company. "The less you blame yourself, the more the public will blame you. You aren't blaming yourself nearly enough in this draft," Sandman wrote in one e-mail. Sandman's original three-page statement was eventually pared back to only one page. However, AWB executives decided not to make a public apology at all. The inquiry resumes public hearings in two weeks.

EMBATTLED wheat exporter AWB was willing to pay an American spin doctor $91,000 to help draft a public apology for the Iraq wheat kickbacks scandal.
New documents released today by the Cole inquiry into the scandal show AWB hired corporate crisis guru Peter Sandman last December and wanted to fly him to Melbourne for less than two day's work at $US650 ($A850.50) an hour, plus expenses.

At the time AWB was under enormous pressure after a United Nations inquiry into its corrupt oil for food program in Iraq found the Australian grain trader had paid nearly $300 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime.

Despite AWB having denied all responsibility for the kickbacks, the Federal Government announced it would set up a wide-ranging inquiry into the scandal.

Senior AWB executive Jill Gillingham initially emailed Mr Sandman at his base in Princeton, New Jersey, on December 7 last year asking if he was willing to help the wheat exporter.

Mr Sandman quickly replied, saying he would be "delighted to work with you" and noted that his fee would be $US650 an hour plus expenses, including first class airfares.

He said he had been in Australia during October and November 2005 and had a sense of what AWB was going through.

"When I was skimming over stories about the controversy, the 'stupidity defence' came to mind," he said.

The following day Ms Gillingham emailed again, saying AWB's then managing director Andrew Lindberg was keen to hire him and asked Mr Sandman if he could fly to Australia before Christmas.

Mr Sandman said while he could be in Melbourne by December 22, he would want to return to the US on Christmas Eve, leaving just a day and half for him to meet with AWB.

"Please note that, awkward timing aside, this is an extremely expensive proposition," he warned.

"Aside from the first class airfare (itself a five-digit sum, even in US dollars), I charge $US650 per hour for all working time, travel time, and prep time.

"Total cost will be in the $US60,000 ($A78,500 to $US70,000 ($A91,600) range. I think that's crazy for a day and a half of strategic thinking together."

According to documents released by the inquiry, AWB ended up agreeing with Mr Sandman's suggestion for him to advise the company via email and telephone conference calls.

A series of emails and calls were made to him during December 2005 and January this year during which he helped AWB draft a profuse apology for the kickbacks scandal.

About nine drafts were made.

However, Mr Sandman was far from happy with the early versions.

"I assume you all knew I would hate this draft," he said of one version sent to him in early January.

"What's here is much more a defence than a mea culpa.

"Judging from the media coverage I have read, the apology is needed.

"You aren't blaming yourself nearly enough in this draft, I believe."

The final version of the apology, seen by the Cole inquiry earlier this year, included admissions by Mr Lindberg that AWB knew about the kickbacks and never tried to stop them.

However, the company never released the document.

Mr Lindberg is expected to be recalled to answer questions about the apology when the inquiry resumes on August 22.

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