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Qantas director resigns over Italian corruption investigation

26 Feb 2013 THE AGE - MATT O'SULLIVAN



IT WILL be the birthday Corinne Namblard would rather forget.

The German-born former hedge fund specialist turned 57 on Saturday, and promptly handed in her resignation as a Qantas director.

A director since June 2011, Ms Namblard decided it was "in the best interests of both Qantas and herself" to step aside in light of a legal case in Italy over alleged corruption involving the world's oldest surviving bank, Monte dei Pasche di Siena, and her former firm.

Despite resigning from the high-profile Qantas board, she will remain as a non-executive director of listed South Australian technology company Codan.

Ms Namblard, who lives in South Australia, has been questioned as part of an investigation into the privatisation of an airport in the Tuscan city of Siena in 2007.

Italian prosecutors allege improper dealings between Luxembourg hedge fund Galaxy and the airport's controlling shareholder, Monte dei Pasche di Siena. Galaxy, of which Ms Namblard was chief executive for 10 years, successfully bid for a 54 per cent stake in the airport. She denies any wrongdoing.

Qantas said it learnt of Ms Namblard's connection to the corruption investigation in Italy only last week, despite her reportedly telling a headhunter, who recommended her for the position, two years ago.

The airline would not reveal the search firm's identity.

Corporate governance experts said responsibility rested with the headhunters - who charge as much as $300,000 to recruit board members - to inform prospective employers about matters such as legal proceedings or investigations.

The case also highlights the challenge facing blue-chip companies that are increasingly having to look overseas to fill board vacancies.

While the Australian market is small enough for companies to be aware of most matters concerning prospective directors from this country, their business networks are not nearly as strong overseas, which makes them more reliant on headhunters to do background checks.

"When you hire from overseas you don't have those networks - that is where they rely on search firms," one expert said.

In explaining her sudden departure, Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford said Ms Namblard was "especially concerned to ensure that the continuing media focus on the current Italian proceedings did not distract Qantas from implementing its strategic imperatives. It is also apt to note that Ms Namblard strenuously denies any wrongdoing in relation to the matters, which are the subject of the Italian proceedings, and the Qantas board has no reason whatsoever to doubt the position."

A spokeswoman for Codan said Ms Namblard, who has been a director since August 2011 and holds French and Canadian citizenships, had "fully informed the board and strongly denies all of the allegations". The company would not comment further.

A relative unknown in Australian business circles, Ms Namblard also sits on the South Australian government's Economic Development Board and the University of SA council.

Apart from a 10-year stint as chief executive of Galaxy, a dedicated transport equity fund, Ms Namblard spent 19 years with Banque Nationale de Paris as head of its advisory team, specialising in project finance.

Her departure reduces Qantas' board to 10.