Australian Treasurer Peter Costello has called on Switzerland to lift its banking secrecy laws and co-operate with corporate regulators as the government prepares a request to obtain evidence from the Zurich District Attorney concerning secret bank accounts held by stockbroker Rene Rivkin (right). But that’s not all. The Australian Financial Review has lifted the veil of Swiss secrecy in respect of a couple of other high profile Australian investors also.

Three high-profile Australians, Rene Rivkin, Graham Richardson and Trevor Kennedy, used a Swiss bank which hid their financial transactions from all prying eyes. But the black box has been levered open and the secrets of the vault revealed.

The revelations have prompted a formal investigation and ignited fierce political debate.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) yesterday confirmed the investigations into alleged secret share trading by the group and began its investigation into trading in the printing group Offset Alpine.

“This investigation will focus on the veracity of information previously provided to the Australian Securities Commission and the Federal Court in connection with the beneficial ownership of shares in OAP,” ASIC chairman David Knott said in a statement.

“If it is demonstrated that any party knowingly misled either the regulator or the court, ASIC will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.”

Alpine Offset came to the attention of authorities in the early 1990s after a fire gutted its Sydney premises on Christmas Eve 1993, resulting in a $52 million insurance payout.

Following trading in the shares in 1995, Australian authorities sought to discover who owned the 38 per cent of the shares held in Swiss bank accounts. Interviewed under oath, Rivkin, who was chairman of Alpine Offset, said he did not know whose the shares were.

Despite shares and funds being frozen by it and later the Tax Office, the holder’s identity or identities was never revealed.

But in an affidavit in Zurich last year, made during a bank embezzlement investigation, Rivkin allegedly said the shares belonged to Mr Richardson and Mr Kennedy, now a Qantas director. Rivkin was convicted of insider trading in May.

ASIC said yesterday that providing false or misleading information to it carries a penalty of up to two years’ jail.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday he was confident that ASIC and the Tax Office would examine the allegations. “They appear to be quite important, substantial allegations,” he told 3AW.

Opposition Leader Simon Crean said he was “delighted that ASIC is investigating”.

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