By Graham Skellern
Zespri boss Tim Goodacre will tell a commission of inquiry everything he knows about the Australian Wheat Board's involvement in the scandal-ridden United Nations oil-for-food programme with Iraq following the first Gulf War.
Mr Goodacre, a senior manager with the wheat board at the time, will attend the hearing in Sydney over the next two weeks.
He will first be interviewed by commissioner Terence Cole's legal team who will decide whether he should give formal evidence.
Mr Goodacre's lawyer, Peter Crombie, said his client was willing to co-operate in any way he could.
"After speaking with the legal team and clarifying all the issues they have, maybe he won't need to give evidence."
Mr Crombie has been keeping an eye on all the evidence in the inquiry which began with secret hearings before Christmas and was then opened up to the public a month ago.
Mr Crombie was to talk with the commission's lawyers today to fix a date for Mr Goodacre's appearance.
The inquiry is investigating claims that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) paid up to $A300 million ($NZ330 million) in kickbacks, disguised as "trucking fees", to secure exporting contracts with Iraq, and that money was funnelled to Saddam Hussein's coffers.
The wheat was supposedly taken into Iraq by a Jordanian trucking company that was partly owned by the Iraqi regime.
The inquiry is investigating whether the AWB or any employee breached United Nations sanctions that prohibited the payment of money to Iraq for any exported goods and whether they have committed an offence under Australian law.
The inquiry has been widened to consider the role of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and resources giant BHP in the alleged bribery scandal.
Mr Goodacre worked for the AWB for 12 years and his name had been mentioned on occasions during the inquiry.
Last Friday, Mark Emons - AWB's former head of the Middle East desk - told the inquiry that he alerted Mr Goodacre to the payments, and he negotiated with Mr Goodacre an exit clause absolving him of responsibility for the Iraqi payments.
Mr Crombie said that's one of the reasons why his client was going to Australia. "Over the past month of monitoring the hearings, nothing has given me or Tim cause for concern - until the allegation last week."
Zespri International chairman Craig Greenlees said Mr Goodacre had been talking with him and the board since last November over the possibility that he might have to give evidence to the inquiry.
Mr Greenlees said it was unfortunate that something like this has come up as Zespri was always concerned about its image in the marketplace.
"But Tim has made it clear to the board that personally he did not foresee anything of concern, at the inquiry, in respect of his own actions while working at AWB. We are very comfortable with that," said Mr Greenlees.
"I know the positions he held at AWB and they weren't principally involved in the (trading) activities - he was on the corporate side.
"He will give his evidence and we will let it take its course and see what comes out."
Mr Greenlees said Mr Goodacre would not be discussing any matters relating to the inquiry prior to giving evidence, and he would be given leave for the time he was in Sydney "as this is not a matter that relates to his current role or business of Zespri."
Australian-born Mr Goodacre joined AWB in 1994. From 1998 to 2000 he was the general manager grower services and concentrated on revamping the commercial relationship with growers.
He then became group general manager trading and group general manager corporate before leaving AWB in December 2002 to take up his position as the new chief executive for kiwifruit marketer Zespri, based at Mount Maunganui.