By Jane Wardell and Byron Kaye
A senior media adviser for Australian lawmaker and mining magnate Clive Palmer, whose party holds the balance of power in the upper house Senate, was charged on Friday over the kidnapping of a bank executive on an Indonesian island.
The charges allege that adviser Andrew Crook, former sports star Tony Smith and former senior detective Mick Featherstone lured the unidentified National Australia Bank executive to Singapore and then on to Indonesia’s Batam Island, using the pretence of a high-paying job offer from Palmer.
The executive was detained on Batam by fake Indonesian security officials and was threatened with violence before recording a video recanting evidence given in a A$70 million ($57.3 million) court case between NAB and Smith, a former Australian Football League player.
Police said Palmer, who has become one of Australia’s most polarising political figures since being elected in 2013, had no knowledge of the plot.
“This is one of the most elaborate and perhaps desperate schemes I’ve come across in 35 years of policing,” Detective Inspector Phil Stevens told reporters.
“It reads like a Hollywood script.”
Palmer told Reuters by telephone that he had “no idea, no knowledge” of the matter. He told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “it’s a black day for Australia if any of this … has anything to do with political freedom in this country”.
Queensland Police Detective Superintendent Michael Nilan said any suggestion the charges had anything to do with politics was “utter nonsense”.
The matter caps a rollercoaster year for Palmer. His Palmer United Party controls the balance of power in the Senate, giving him leverage over Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s conservative government on several key issues.
However, Palmer is also embroiled in a legal dispute with Citic Pacific over the Chinese company’s mining rights to the $9.6 billion Sino Iron Project in Western Australia.
Police are in contact with Smith’s lawyers and he is expected to return to Australia from Indonesia.
Police said further charges are expected to be laid. The case came to light as part of a year-long investigation into motorcycle gang crime in Queensland state.
National Australia Bank said it gave police “details of unsolicited approaches made to an employee regarding evidence they gave in a civil court trial involving a former customer”.
The bank said the employee had been concerned “for their own safety and that of their family”.