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Debunked: No, an Australian politician didn't resign over bribes from vaccine makers

The claim has been doing the rounds on social media in recent weeks.

For debunks

A CLAIM THAT a senior Australian politician took millions of dollars in bribes from vaccine manufacturers has been shared across social media in recent weeks. 

The claim has appeared on numerous platforms in different variations, but centres around the same allegation: the former Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned while under criminal investigation for accepting a $65 million (€49 million) bribe from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

The post has been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter, and has even been translated into different languages: 

Screenshot 2021-11-12 at 18.01.10 Facebook Facebook

Screenshot 2021-11-12 at 18.04.22 Twitter @AndrePitre_LUX Twitter @AndrePitre_LUX

However, it is not true: although Berejiklian did resign and is being investigated over her actions while in office, the allegations about her centre around a personal relationship and have nothing to do with vaccines.

Who said it?

The claims first emerged after a former Australian federal politician and businessman Clive Palmer gave a press conference in September claiming Gladys Berejiklian was: 

“Being directed by a lobbyist who’s being paid by AstraZeneca and by Pfizer tens of millions of dollars to get these policies through to make sure the vaccine is pushed.”

clive-palmer-united-australia-party-announcement Clive Palmer AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

A clip from that press conference was stitched onto the outgoing premier’s resignation speech in this clip, shared on TikTok and Facebook, which made it appear as if that was the reason for her stepping down from political office. 

But is it true?

Gladys Berejiklian did resign from her position as New South Wales State leader on 1 October. She is also being investigated by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). 

But neither her resignation nor the anti-corruption investigation into her have anything to do with vaccines – instead, they centre on Berejiklian’s ex-boyfriend Daryl Maguire, a former member of New South Wales’ parliament.

In 2018, Maguire resigned after secret telephone recordings revealed that he had brokered a deal with a Chinese property developer and expected cash in return.

The corruption scandal forced his resignation from the parliament, and he was subsequently investigated by the ICAC in a probe known as Operation Keppel.

Then last year, Berejiklian told the commission that she had been in a romantic relationship with Maguire for a number of years – something which was previously unknown.

That caused the expansion of Operation Keppel to include Berejiklian. The ICAC is now investigating whether the former premier was guilty of a breach of private trust by letting her relationship with Maguire conflict with her public duties. 

The investigation is specifically examining whether Berejiklian knew about and failed to report Maguire’s conduct, and whether she gave him preferential treatment in terms of grant funding.

Berejiklian strongly denies any wrongdoing, and the ICAC’s findings are expected next year. 

icac-operation-keppel-inquiry Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaks to the media after appearing at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing in Sydney,AAP Image/Mick Tsikas AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

While the hearings revealed plenty of awkward details about the former couple’s relationship, it did not involve any allegations about bribes from Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

The ICAC confirmed to The Journal that the scope of its investigation into Berejiklian does not include multimillion dollar payoffs from pharmaceutical companies, and directed a query about what the probe entails to its website

It’s also important to note that an ICAC investigation is not a ‘criminal’ investigation, as some claims suggest.

The commission’s role is to gather information, but it can’t hand down criminal punishment – though it can refer corruption findings to the public prosecutor for further action. 

So what is the source of Clive Palmer’s allegations?

clive-palmer-presser Former MP Clive Palmer AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

The former MP said in a video in September that his claims about a “vaccine lobby” directing Berejiklian came from ‘personal knowledge’.

“I’m happy to make a statement here, to police or anyone if they want to know what’s going on,” he said at the time.

But as of yet, he has not publicly produced proof or named the ‘lobbyist’ involved. 

The Journal contacted Palmer’s United Australia Party to ask whether he could provide evidence of his claims. However, no response was received by the time of publication. 

Back in June the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration warned Mr Palmer and radio stations it was seriously concerned over his radio ads which “provides an incorrect picture of the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.”

There is currently no evidence to support allegations that vaccine companies bribed Berejiklian, who is simply being investigated over her relationship with her former partner.

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