Cables reveal Qantas duo's ordeal

Secret diplomatic cables about the plight of two Qantas executives banned from leaving Vietnam several years ago have shone a light on how the bureaucracy sought to manage public perceptions.

Secret diplomatic cables about the plight of two Qantas executives banned from leaving Vietnam several years ago have shone a light on how the bureaucracy sought to manage public perceptions.

The documents, stamped "consular media talking points", also reveal that Qantas was "keen to manage media interest downwards" about its two top-ranked executives upon their return to Australia.

Tristan Freeman and Daniela Marsilli were kept in Vietnam for six months in late 2009 and 2010 while secret police investigated losses at Jetstar Pacific. Qantas has a 30 per cent stake in the Vietnamese budget airline.

The cables about the highly sensitive case reveal Vietnam's secret police "conducted a series of interviews separately" with Mr Freeman in the capital, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. The Ministry of Public Security also interviewed Ms Marsilli once in late December 2009.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been forced by the Information Commissioner to release detailed information it once deemed "irrelevant" to Fairfax Media. The cables were originally obtained by this newspaper under freedom-of-information laws in late 2010 but were heavily censored.

The newly released documents show that top of mind for the department were questions it was likely to face from the media about whether Qantas had to reach a deal to free its two executives.

Diplomats were prepped for questions such as whether Qantas had to "provide any commercial concessions to allow this outcome".

The response did not answer the question but was to be: "The Australian government has focused on the consular welfare of the two Australians and are pleased that the two are now on their way to Australia.

"Qantas and its Vietnamese partner, the State Capital Investment Commission, are maintaining their investment in the airline and have issued a statement to that effect."

Fairfax Media has revealed that the two executives were freed after the airline agreed to a secret "commercial package" with the SCIC, the investment arm of Vietnam's government. The deal was reached just days before the pair were allowed to return to Australia in June 2010.

Six months earlier, the two executives were stopped from returning to Australia for Christmas. Immigration officials confiscated the passport of Mr Freeman, then the chief financial officer of Jetstar Pacific. It was later returned with formal advice that he could not leave Vietnam.

He was told that Vietnamese police wanted to interview him about Jetstar Pacific's operations.

Ms Marsilli, then Jetstar Pacific's chief operating officer, was to leave the same day - December 19, 2009. But the cables show she decided "not to attempt to leave after receiving advice that Vietnamese authorities also wanted to interview her".

The pair were targeted as part of a "formal investigation" after Jetstar Pacific lost $31 million in a fuel hedging contract. Under Vietnamese law, the loss incurred by the SCIC - the majority shareholder in the Jetstar Pacific joint venture with Qantas - had to be investigated.

Qantas said on Friday that its two executives had been "through a lot so, for obvious reasons, we were keen to protect their privacy when they returned to Australia".

Related Articles