The Seven Network has told a Senate inquiry it suffered significant damage to its reputation following raids by federal police looking for evidence of a supposed deal with convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby.
The search warrants police used were subsequently quashed by a Federal Court judge, who found the issuing magistrate had been materially misled.
Seven West Media, owner of the network, said the warrants were executed in an extremely aggressive manner, using more than 30 armed police officers from the Serious and Organised Crime division.
The network was being investigated by the Australian Federal Police about a reported exclusive multimillion dollar deal between it and Corby, following her release on parole from a Bali prison in February.
“No such deal has ever existed,” Seven has told the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee.
Executives from the network are appearing before the committee at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday.
The network argues the issue is not a criminal matter.
And even if there had been an agreement there was never, and could not be, any allegation or suspicion that a criminal offence had been committed by Seven West Media or any other person.
“The AFP investigation was based solely on media speculation,” it said, adding the AFP made no requests to Seven about whether such a deal existed.
The company’s commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, told the inquiry the raids impacted adversely on the share price of Seven West Media and the network’s news ratings.
“The whole heavy-handedness was unnecessary,” he said, adding several of its employees were deeply upset by the raids.
Mr McWilliam said the company suffered significant damage to its corporate image because the raids implied it had committed a criminal offence.
The company was not allowed time to consult lawyers about the protection of documents covered by lawyer-client privilege.
Seven reporter Ross Coulthart, a former barrister, told the inquiry it was the first time in his career his workplace had been raided by police.
“It really did send a chill up all spines that day to see police officers with guns walking into a media institution,” he said.
The inquiry heard Seven had provided police with documents before the raids.
However, those documents indicated there was further material, especially regarding “the arrangement”, that Seven had not provided, the AFP told the inquiry.
“They had not fully complied with the production order,” Assistant Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour said.
One document identified a number of draft agreements for payments totalling $550,000, while another was an unsigned “exclusive” agreement emailed to Mercedes Corby as agent for her sister, also for $550,000.
The two documents were retrieved during the subsequent police raids.
Mr Jabbour said the AFP believed some form of agreement was in place between Seven and Schapelle Corby or third parties representing her.
But it was not a crime for the company to enter into an agreement that paid Corby “big money” for an interview, the AFP’s proceeds of crime litigation manager David Gray told the inquiry.
Nor was it a crime for Corby to accept payment.
But the law required the AFP to prevent such payments to “notorious criminals”.
Acting AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin defended the actions of his officers, but admitted that with hindsight they could have handled the matter differently.
He said claims firearms were visible during the raids and that some officers acted in an overly aggressive manner were being investigated by the AFP professional standards unit.
But Mr Colvin insisted police use the minimum force required to execute search warrants.