US charity sues CommBank in IT bribery scandal

US-based charity ACE Foundation has filed a law suit against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for not returning $2.53 million in funding that it had paid two former IT employees unknowingly involved in corrupt activities.

US-based charity the ACE Foundation is suing the Commonwealth Bank of Australia for not returning the US$2.53 million funds it allegedly paid two former IT executives who have been charged for corrupt payments.

The ACE Foundation has claimed the funds it deposited into the personal bank accounts of the two former IT executives, Jon Waldron and Keith Hunter, who at the time agreed to help the organisation to work on their charitable projects, is being wrongfully withheld by CBA.

According to the filed law suit, after CBA learned its employees were leaving to work for its competitors, it objected to them from helping ACE. Following this, when ACE learned that CBA had objected, ACE requested for the money to be returned. However, CBA claimed that the funds were improper payments, which were intended to be hidden from CBA.

"CBA threatened to sue Waldron and Hunter if they returned ACE's money. When Hunter informed CBA that he was returning ACE's money to ACE, CBA made false allegations to the Australian police that the payments were illegal secret payments, even though the payments were made into accounts at CBA. The Australian police froze the accounts of Waldron and Hunter, preventing them from returning ACE's money," ACE said in a statement.

The company said when the funds were deposited into the bank accounts, it was done so with transparency, and with belief that the bank was fully aware of the relationship that had been established. ACE also explained in its suit that $100,000 of the funds was for the consultants, while the remainder was appropriately budgeted as project expenses, evidenced in forms of statements-of-work, invoices, goals, and other supporting documentations.

The funds were intended to be used to help apply technology to the "most pressing challenges facing economically distressed populations and developing nations", such as, to develop a system to improve the distribution of drinking water in impoverished communities.

"As a result of CBA's interference with ACE's relationship with Waldron and Hunter, ACE has been deprived of over $2.5 million, critical funds needed by ACE to fund its projects. ACE brings this action to recover its money that it lost due to CBA's intentional and wrongful interference with ACE's contractual relationship with its consultants," ACE said.

ACE has also clarified that while its initial donation was received from prominent entrepreneur Eric Pulier, he did not have any involvement in running the ACE Foundation. Pulier is also a founder or co-founder of 15 technology-related companies, including ServiceMesh, which allegedly was the company that was involved in the initial bribery case involving the two CBA employees. ServiceMesh was acquired by CSC in 2013.

"The intention to use these shares for charitable purposes was established and documented long before CBA's false allegations that the shares were used to pay bribes to CBA employees," ACE said.

The Commonwealth Bank said it had no comment to make as the matters were before the courts.