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Family Ties: Defence contracts go to company linked to wife of former army chief

by Michelle Fahy | Aug 3, 2020 | Government

Peter Leahy’s wife is a director of a company awarded $38 million in contracts from federal departments, mostly Defence and Foreign Affairs and Trade. The company had earned $2.2 million in revenue from federal government contracts before Leahy resigned as Chief. Michelle Fahy investigates.

A former head of the Australian Army, Professor Peter Leahy AC, has close family links to a company that was established during his six-year term as Chief of Army (2002-2008) and also started winning defence contracts during his time as Chief.

The company, Staff Check Pty Ltd, was registered in November 2003, with Leahy’s wife, Lee, named a director a month later. Mrs Leahy listed her then current address in Duntroon with ASIC filings (an address since changed and updated). Apart from a brief hiatus between November 2004 and June 2005, Mrs Leahy has remained a director since.

Staff Check says it undertakes security vetting of personnel for federal and state government departments along with the private sector. Records published on AusTender (the Australian Government’s procurement information website) show that the company has been awarded $38 million in federal government contracts to date, the vast majority from the Department of Defence ($33 million, 87%) with $3.7 million (10%) from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

First federal contract with Defence 

Staff Check’s first federal contract was awarded by the Department of Defence, commencing on May 18, 2007. Leahy didn’t retire from the Army for another 14 months, in July 2008. By this time, records indicate Staff Check had earned $2.2 million in revenue from federal government contracts alone.

Michael West Media contacted Professor Leahy with several questions, some of which related to conflicts of interest. Professor Leahy responded, “While I was Chief of Army all relevant conflict of interest processes were followed.”

Neither Professor Leahy nor Mrs Leahy responded specifically to questions about Staff Check’s revenue from other sources prior to July 2008. Mrs Leahy said, “Staff Check was established in 2003 to provide security vetting and pre-employment services within Australia.”

31-year Army veteran

Former Australian Army brigadier Jeffrey Wilkinson is Mrs Leahy’s current business partner in Staff Check. Wilkinson’s connection with Staff Check began in December 2010 when he became a director, the secretary and majority shareholder (51%).

Wilkinson was in the Australian Army for 31 years before his retirement in 2001. He played a key role managing logistics for INTERFET (International Force East Timor) during its mission in East Timor from 1999-2000. Wilkinson then became involved with the private military services contractor DynCorp from January 2004, possibly earlier, eventually becoming the managing director of DynCorp (Australia) Pty Ltd in February 2005. He remained a DynCorp director for more than 11 years, until December 2016.

DynCorp International, a US military contracting corporation, is owned by a private equity firm and provides a range of military services globally, including mercenary forces. DynCorp International has also attracted controversy in relation to possible human trafficking.

As Michael West Media reported late last year, DynCorp Australia has been involved in questionable dealings which link a Russian aviation tycoon (owner of the company Vertical-T) to the Australian Defence Force via a complex network of offshore companies. Questions surrounding these dealings are yet to be answered by DynCorp Australia and the ADF.

Australian Defence contracts pass from Russian with money-laundering links to shady US military contractor Dyncorp

More recently, DynCorp has operated in Australia under the business name Augility, winning hundreds of millions of dollars in Defence contracts.

For a six-year period, from December 2010 until December 2016, Wilkinson was a director of DynCorp (Australia) while also a director of Staff Check, which was carrying out sensitive security clearances and pre-employment checks of personnel on behalf of Defence and DFAT during this period.

Michael West Media asked Mr Wilkinson about his attitude to the obvious potential for conflicts of interest, and possible security issues, arising from his then concurrent directorships.

Top level clearance

Mr Wilkinson said he has “top level security clearance” from Defence, that Defence is “rigid and very strict” with its procedures for awarding contracts, and that there was never any conflict between his two roles.

Mrs Leahy has confirmed that she was aware of Mr Wilkinson’s position with DynCorp Australia when he joined Staff Check, and also his later position with Augility. She said, “Staff Check has always had in place procedures to manage any possible conflict of interest. Staff Check completed all the required processes for every tender process that was entered into for the provision of security vetting services. All Defence requirements were met.”

There is no suggestion that either Mrs Leahy or Professor Leahy were involved with any of the abovementioned activities of DynCorp Australia.

Michelle Fahy is an independent journalist who has been investigating militarism and the arms trade since 2009.

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