Two banknote firms linked to Australia's central bank and six of their former employees were charged Friday with bribing Asian officials to secure contracts to print their currencies.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) said the charges against the men and currency companies Securency International and Note Printing Australia (NPA), relate to alleged bribes given to officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
"The AFP will allege that during the period 1999-2005, senior managers from Securency and NPA utilised international sales agents to bribe foreign public officials in order to secure banknote contracts," police said.
The six Victorian men appeared briefly in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday for a preliminary filing hearing and were released on bail.
The men were all bailed on their own undertaking.
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) said it condemned corruption and while the firms involved were its partly or fully owned subsidiaries, no one at the central bank had been accused of wrongdoing.
"The Reserve Bank deeply regrets that the governance arrangements and processes in the companies at that time were not able to prevent or detect the alleged behaviour," governor Glenn Stevens said.
Stevens said controls at both firms had been overhauled since the scandal broke two years ago, adding that all those charged no longer worked with the companies and the use of sales agents had stopped.
Securency, which is partly owned by the RBA and produces polymer banknotes used in more than 30 countries, said it had been charged with three counts of conspiracy to influence foreign officials.
The company, which first requested Australian police investigate allegations of bribery in May 2009, said it was cooperating fully with authorities and considering its legal position.
"Securency is committed to the highest standards of ethics and governance and the board and management condemn any form of corrupt behaviour," chairman Bob Rankin said.
NPA, a wholly owned RBA subsidiary responsible for running the printing works where Australia's banknotes are printed, made no immediate comment.
The charges are the first under foreign bribery laws introduced in 1999 and came as Malaysian authorities laid related bribery charges against two others.
Australian police, who have worked with Britain's Serious Fraud Office, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Malaysian Attorney General's Chambers and Indonesian National Police on the case, said the investigation was ongoing.
Police said that in Indonesia a foreign official allegedly received a bribe to ensure a joint venture banknote contract for Securency and NPA, while in Malaysia a bribe was allegedly used to win a contract for NPA.
In Vietnam, an official allegedly received a bribe paid in the form of a university scholarship to secure a banknote contract on behalf of Securency.
AFP Commander Chris McDevitt said the six Australians charged, aged between 50 and 66, had been chief executives, chief financial officers or sales agents for Securency or NPA.
If convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to Aus$1.1 million (US$1.2 million).
"This sends a very clear message to corporate Australia that indeed the AFP will diligently chase and enforce the laws related to foreign bribery," McDevitt told reporters.
Police said the charges against the companies, which carry a maximum fine of Aus$330,000 per offence, were not a reflection that individual board members were complicit or knew of any illegal activity.