Former Leighton execs quit

David Stewart resigns as CEO to address allegations of corruption at Leighton.

Former Leighton Holdings (LEI) chief executive officer David Stewart has resigned from his role as CEO of engineering and construction group Laing O'Rourke's Australian business following allegations of corruption at Leighton.

In a statement, Laing O'Rourke said Mr Stewart has decided to resign in order to "concentrate exclusively on addressing the allegations" without risk of damaging his current employer's reputation.

"This follows recent media speculation in Australia relating to business practices at Leighton Holdings, his previous employer," the group said.

The group has appointed its Southern Region Director Cathal O'Rourke managing director, effective immediately.

Laing O'Rourke group chief executive officer Anna Stewart said Mr O'Rourke's engineering and construction expertise would help develop the business. 

Meanwhile, former Leighton chief operating officer David Savage has stepped down as a non-executive director of British engineering firm Keller Group plc.

"In light of recent articles in the Australian media relating to business practices at Leighton Holdings, Mr Savage has stepped down to enable him to deal with the allegations made against Leighton during his tenure as a senior executive there," Keller said.

Keller chairman Roy Franklin said the decision "will allow him [Mr Savage] to focus on addressing these allegations and avoid any distraction to Keller". 

The resignations follow a six-month investigation by Fairfax Media that suggested senior executives were aware of improper behaviour within Leighton's international business.

A range of Leighton documents suggested that the company's chief executive at the time, Wal King, and his successor Mr Stewart were aware of the practices, including plans to pay hefty kickbacks in Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere, according to Fairfax.

Among the documents was a handwritten memo on November 23, 2010 by then-acting chief executive Mr Stewart detailing how Leighton International's managing director, David Savage, revealed in a meeting that he and Mr King knew a $42 million kickback was paid to a company in Monaco nominated by Iraqi officials who chose Leighton for a $750 million oil pipeline contract, Fairfax reported.

“I asked did Wal K approve of this? And he said yes,” Mr Stewart's memo reportedly says.