Leighton 'did not deny' bribe allegations

'The issues should be defined by pleadings not ... newspapers.' Charles Scerri, QC

Leighton Holdings has not denied serious allegations of misconduct made in Fairfax Media newspapers, lawyers for a shareholder class action against the construction giant told a judge on Friday.

Norman O'Bryan, SC, a barrister representing shareholders suing the company, told the Victorian Supreme Court Leighton did not deny the substance of allegations and underlying facts reported in Fairfax newspapers when the company responded to them in a stock exchange announcement on October 3.

"This release is more instructive for what it does not say than what it does," Mr O'Bryan told the court.

"What it does not say is that anything identified in the Fairfax Media articles is false."

Mr O'Bryan's appearance was part of the first hearing into a lawsuit on behalf of Leighton shareholders that alleges a sharemarket announcement by Leighton in February last year, in which it said it had reported a "possible breach of its code of ethics to the Australian Federal Police", misled investors about the true scale of bribery and corruption problems in its overseas operations.

Fairfax Media newspapers have subsequently published more detailed allegations of bribery, misuse of company property and internal cover-ups.

Lawyers for the shareholders are seeking documents, including advice from Leighton's lawyers at law firm Allens.

Leighton's barrister, Charles Scerri, QC, urged the court not to order documents be handed over.

"We take the old-fashioned view that the issues should be defined by the pleadings not what's in the newspapers," he said.

Judge James Judd sided with Leighton and said he would not make any orders but said both sides should be able to agree on non-controversial documents that could be handed over. The case will return to court on February 14.

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