Woolworths executive in kickback scandal

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 18th February 2010

Police arrested Bill Harvey, Woolworths’ buyer for coffee, tea and sugar, on Friday as part of an investigation into a national kickback scheme involving coffee and tea suppliers.  The executive was also sacked from his position at the company’s Bella Vista headquarters yesterday after an internal investigation, and has been replaced by Jim Stephan.  An unidentified Melbourne broker was also arrested but later released, with charges believed to be pending.

It is alleged that wholesalers were forced to pay 15-20% ‘promotional surcharges’ to have their product stocked on Woolworths shelves, and that Mr Harvey received a percentage of these fees, which were paid in cash. Victorian detectives seized nearly $50,000 in cash during the operation.

The investigation is believed to stretch across at least three states. While the kickbacks are currently believed to be limited only to coffee and tea, auditors are investigating whether the scheme has been extended to other products.

“Woolworths confirms it has been working closely with police to investigate an allegation and and an individual is currently assisting police with their inquiries,” said its public relations manager, Clare Buchanan. ‘Woolworths takes such matters extremely seriously but due to the ongoing investigation can make no further comment at this time.”  The company is not being investigated as part of the enquiry.