Melbourne, June 1: ANZ bank suffered a major blow today, when explosive emails between ANZ senior executive Chris Page and former CEO Mike Smith were revealed in the Supreme Court of Victoria, in the case of Oswals vs ANZ bank.
“In essence we are dealing with two very unsavoury characters…”
“We are dealing with Indians with no moral compass and an Indian woman who is every bit as devious as PO (Pankaj Oswal),” Mr Page told Mr Smith in an email in 2009.
Mr Page also wrote, wanting “dirt on Oswal”.
Flamboyant billionaires Pankaj and Radhika Oswal have thus accused ANZ Bank and its senior executives, including former chief executive Mike Smith of “racial bigotry” in their dealings with the Indian couple.
Tycoon businessman Pankaj and his socialite wife Radhika Oswal alleged that the ANZ Bank’s behaviour was contemptuous and they were ridiculed being Indians.
Lawyer for Oswals, Tony Bannon, said that Mr Page used a slew of derogatory terms to describe the couple, and that the use of the word ‘Indian’ by Mr Page in the email was “derogatory”.
“It is no more or less than racial bigotry,” because it implied that Oswals “had character flaws that were essentially Indian”.
“To think he could send it to the CEO of the bank without the fear of rebuke betrayed what was indeed the true culture of what was acceptable for the CEO of the bank,” said Mr Bannon referring to a questionable culture amongst officials in ANZ bank.
Mr Bannon also pointed out that Mr Smith’s response showed that he held similar attitude.
“Chris Well done… I guess we just need to keep the pressure on.
“What a bunch,” Mr Smith wrote in response to Page’s derogatory email.
Mr Bannon took his argument further to say that the email exchange was evidence that ‘race’ would pan to be an issue in the business deal, that is currently the pivot of the gigantic legal battle.
Earlier this year, ANZ was alleged to have fostered a toxic culture of sexist behaviour and alleged misconduct, on its trading room floor.
After the court hearing in Melbourne, a spokesman for ANZ issued a statement, saying: “Any form of racism is unacceptable. However the comments are irrelevant to the legal merits of the Oswals case.”
Vasan Srinivasan, Chair – Confederation of Indian Australian Associations Inc said that usage of the language as used by ANZ senior management was “offensive”.
“Any employee, contractor cannot use offensive language or intent to do so in emails, as did by ANZ Senior Management”, he said.
Vasan who is also member of Austraalian Multicultural Council and Board member of Mental Health Foundation of Australia said that “all major enterprises have a number of induction & yearly compliance for all staff, including CEO’S, who have to complete on a number of areas”.
He indicated areas of internal and external communication policy, including customers.
“Such a reference to an ethnic group should not be made… it becomes apparent that the senior management made an indirect reference on race or ethnicity by using the word Indian”, Vasan said.
While, ANZ contends that the Oswals misappropriated $150 million from Burrup for personal use, the Oswals are suing the bank for $2.5 billion after it sold their Western Australian fertiliser company over personal debts.
Mr Bannon has alleged ANZ and PPB worked to sell the shares to other Burrup shareholders rather than fetching the highest price.
It is claimed that the family’s 65 per cent stake in Burrup Fertilisers, worth $1.385 billion was sold for only $560 million.
The Oswals’ $70 million mansion remains in ruins in Perth’s upscale suburb of Peppermint Grove. Their $30m private jet, luxury cars and a $2.7m yacht had all been left behind when they moved to Dubai in 2010.
The trial continues.
The Oswals were also issued a DPO – departure prohibition order by Australian Taxation Office over a $190m tax bill, as soon as they landed in Australia, last month. This case is expected to be heard in court next week.