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EXCLUSIVE: Jay sacks SA's Paris envoy after court appearance

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In a severe embarrassment to Premier Jay Weatherill, South Australia’s envoy to France has been sacked only weeks after the opening of the state’s office in Paris.

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South Australia’s Agent-General in London terminated Corinne Namblard’s service agreement today, effective immediately, after InDaily informed the Premier’s office that an Italian prosecutor had requested a jail sentence for Namblard in a Siena court on Tuesday.

InDaily can reveal the call for a term of imprisonment came at the second last hearing of a trial against Namblard, who has strenuously asserted her innocence, and seven others for alleged malpractices linked to the proposed privatisation and expansion of Siena’s airport at Ampugnano.

In 2013, the case resulted in Namblard’s resignation as a director of Qantas, but that didn’t stop Weatherill announcing her as South Australia’s representative in France last month.

However, Weatherill and Agent-General Bill Muirhead were both blindsided by this week’s court appearance. They weren’t aware of it until InDaily made inquiries about the case.

It’s an embarrassment to Weatherill, who has placed much store in building relationships with French business and government. He personally opened the Paris office and announced Namblard’s appointment at an event in September attended by French business people, Australia’s Ambassador to France Stephen Brady and France’s Ambassador to Australia Christophe Penot.

In a statement provided to InDaily a short time ago, Muirhead said that he and the State Government were both aware of the allegations surrounding Namblard’s dealings with the Siena airport at the time of her nomination for the role.

“Extensive steps were undertaken to satisfy the State Government and the Office of the Agent General legal proceedings surrounding these allegations had been resolved,” he said.

“Ms Namblard’s service agreement was specifically designed to safeguard the government if this matter re-emerged.

“This week, this matter re-emerged in legal proceedings in Italy.

“This is inconsistent with Ms Namblard’s ability to continue in her role while this matter is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings.”

Weatherill said he supported the decision to terminate Namblard’s appointment.

“This is a disappointing development but I support the Agent General’s decision,” he said.

InDaily understands a new appointment will be made soon.

In Siena this week, Namblard made her first personal appearance at the trial, held in a modern concrete building, already flaking, just beyond the city walls.

She made a spontaneous declaration to the court protesting her total innocence.

She underlined her experience in the world of finance and infrastructure, described preparation of a response to the call for expressions of interest for the airport’s privatisation, referred to the education of her son in Canada and also spoke about the long-standing relations between Galaxy Fund, of which she had been CEO, and the Milanese facilitator Polar Consulting. Those who make spontaneous court declarations cannot be questioned about them.

According to Namblard’s declaration, after the Galaxy fund expressed interest in the privatisation, it was successful in the subsequent evidence procedure and bought into Siena airport as a majority shareholder. Galaxy had been negotiating directly for this position when it was realised the law required a more formal procedure than had been used in calling for expressions of interest.

The Public Prosecutor has requested a one-year jail sentence on the third of the three charges Nambard initially faced relating to an allegedly untrue communication by Namblard as CEO of Aeroporto di Siena SpA regarding the Siena airport. It is alleged this communication came in a reply to inquiries by the Ministry for Infrastructure and Transport about the airport company’s contacts with the facilitator Polar Consulting.

At the hearing, the Public Prosecutor dropped the first charge against Namblard and two other defendants of allegedly falsifying the minutes of the commission which formulated the evidence procedure for the privatisation.

One of the other two was Giuseppe Mussari, at the time president of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank and of the Italian Banking Association.

The second of the three charges against Namblard also concerned the alleged rigging of the public evidence procedure. This charge expired earlier this year as judgment had not been delivered within the three year term.

A committee of thousands of local citizens, who protested against the proposed airport expansion, reported apparent irregularities in the airport privatisation process which led to investigations culminating in the charges laid by the Public Prosecutor.

One committee member said the hearing on Tuesday had not appeared to have gone well for the prosecution. They felt the dropping of the charge against Mussari was a concerning development and suggested the other charges may not be upheld.

The member said she had greeted Namblard, who she knew from past encounters, at court but had received no response.

If Namblard is convicted, she has until 2021 to appeal against the finding. Penal trials in Italy have three judicial levels.

A guilty verdict could involve payment of damages. The Municipal Councils of Siena and Sovicelle, where the airport is situated, have requested significant compensation (500 million euro and 100 million euro respectively).

The decision in respect of the prosecution is expected to be handed down on October 17. The following day one of the three sitting judges will retire which would create issues if the matter cannot be concluded prior to that date.

In 2011 Namblard was appointed to the Qantas board but news of Italian criminal charges against her led to her resignation in 2013.

This did not prevent her obtaining positions in South Australia including membership of the Economic Development Board.

She stated at the time that the accusations against her were “ politically driven and played up by media in Australia” but that “the official statute of limitations definitely clears the situation.”

The proceedings, which involved allegations of corruption of bureaucrats and politicians, were part of a much wider investigation of the powerful Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third largest bank, which has long financed business activities in Siena. The trial concerning the bank is about to conclude.

The prosecutions over the airport privatisation have progressed very slowly after the preliminary hearings due to changes of public prosecutors and judges and also because summons were erroneously served in English and were sent to wrong addresses.

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