Queensland government officials deny any impropriety related to 2010 sale of Forestry Plantations Queensland to U.S.-based HTRG, after whistleblower allegations sent to Crime and Misconduct Commission

LOS ANGELES , March 6, 2012 () – Government officials in Queensland, Australia, have denied any impropriety was involved in the sale of the state’s forestry assets to Hancock Timber Resource Group (HTRG) in 2010, after a whistleblower alleged an undisclosed relationship between a former deputy premier and the U.S. timber company, according to Australian media reports.

Boston-headquartered HTRG completed the acquisition of Forestry Plantations Queensland for AU$603 million through Hancock Queensland Plantations in mid-2010. As reported by Industry Intelligence on July 1, 2010, the main asset involved was a 99-year timber license on about 204,000 hectares of plantation lands.

However, a whistleblower recently told The Courier Mail newspaper that former Labor deputy premier Jim Elder never declared an alleged involvement in lobbying for the sale of Forestry Plantations Queensland to HTRG.

The Melbourne-based Business Spectator reported on March 6 that the allegations have been sent to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which is assessing whether to launch a formal investigation.

Meanwhile, Queensland Labor has distanced itself from Elder, who quit Labor in 2000. 9 News (part of ninemsn in Sydney) reported Queensland Premier Anna Bligh saying any suggestion that “any member of my government would be out to do a favor for Jim Elder is frankly laughable."

The whistleblower alleges Elder had contact with Treasurer Andrew Fraser in the lead-up to the state timberland asset sale and had received a "success fee" for the deal, the Business Spectator reported on March 6.

Elder has reportedly told the media he did not lobby for HTRG during the business process. However, according to the Business Spectator, Elder had worked for HTRG as a "strategic adviser," and was therefore not obliged to list the company as a client on the lobbyist register.

Andrew Fraser, currently Queensland's deputy premier, this week told reporters he had never met, spoken to or otherwise dealt with Elder during the transaction, the Business Spectator reported.

Bligh said the simple reason HTRG was successful in its bid for the forestry asset was because it “made an offer that was almost $70 million more than the nearest competitor. This asset was valued at around $500 million. Ultimately it sold for $600 million. That was a great outcome for taxpayers."

The primary source of this article is the Business Spectator, Melbourne, Australia, March 6, 2012, and Industry Intelligence archives.

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