The Australian Federal Police is launching fresh investigations into former special forces soldier Ben Roberts-Smith and has already seized evidence implicating the war hero in an alleged conspiracy to silence witnesses.
The new evidence includes letters Mr Roberts-Smith allegedly placed in sealed envelopes and planned to send anonymously to SAS soldiers he feared would testify against him at a war crimes inquiry.
SAS soldier Ben Roberts-Smith with the prosthetic leg taken from an Afghan man whom he killed.
The AFP has also uncovered the existence of at least five “burner” phones that the Victoria Cross recipient arranged to be purchased in 2018, according to records sighted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Authorities have identified multiple Optus and Telstra SIM cards purchased for use in burner phones belonging to Mr Roberts-Smith in 2018 and 2019.
Burner phones are disposable mobile phones subscribed in the name of a third party to obscure the true identity of the user from police phone taps and are typically used by people concerned they might be bugged by authorities. After use they are usually destroyed.
Lawyers for Mr Roberts-Smith were contacted on Monday for comment but did not respond.
A soldier dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit at a party at the soldier’s bar, the Fat Ladies Arms, in Afghanistan.
A joint investigation by The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes revealed allegations that Mr Roberts-Smith, an accused war criminal, dug a hole in the backyard of his Queensland house and buried USB drives inside a pink plastic children’s lunchbox, hiding them from both police and military investigations. The USB drives contained images of bad behaviour by soldiers at a makeshift bar in Afghanistan, as well as classified documents and videos.
The AFP has seized the contents of the USBs and is investigating the Victoria Cross recipient’s handling of the sensitive files.
The two sealed envelopes recently seized by detectives are in addition to a threatening letter previously seized by police and which was posted anonymously in June 2018 to an SAS witness to the military Inspector-General’s war crimes inquiry. That letter warned the witness to stay quiet.
Police are investigating if Mr Roberts-Smith sent that anonymous letter and later sought to destroy the two other envelopes he also had planned to send. Multiple sources speaking on condition of anonymity said a third party, who was allegedly told by Mr Roberts-Smith to destroy the envelopes, kept them instead.
Police seized the envelopes last month, and earlier this month a police forensics team at the AFP Brisbane office was assigned to examine them. The AFP declined to comment, but multiple sources said inquiries were being “prioritised” by the federal agency.
The new investigation probing Mr Roberts-Smith for allegedly intimidating witnesses and concealing evidence is in addition to two AFP taskforces investigating Mr Roberts-Smith for allegedly executing and brutalising unarmed Afghan prisoners in 2009 and 2012.
The new revelations of sealed envelopes and burner phones come as Mr Roberts-Smith’s employer, the Seven Network, is standing by him in his role as senior executive. Mr Roberts-Smith and Seven released a statement saying the former soldier denies new allegations that he attempted to cover up police and military investigations by burying USBs.
Seven is also backing the ex-soldier after he was caught on secretly recorded audio lauding his media mogul boss, Kerry Stokes, for financing his fight to “destroy” those in politics, the media and the SAS who have accused him of war crimes.
In separate secret recordings, which were lawfully made, Mr Roberts-Smith revealed his disdain for the business he helps run, his dislike of his fellow Seven executives and his incredulity that he is still running the company’s Queensland operations despite being at the centre of a war crimes scandal.
Mr Stokes, who is also chairman of the Australian War Memorial, has provided significant financial support to the former special forces soldier to form an expensive legal and public relations team to combat the allegations investigated by the military Inspector-General and detailed in media reporting in The Age and Herald. Mr Roberts-Smith is running a defamation case against the mastheads.
In its statement, the Seven Network said it noted the denial by the Victoria Cross recipient of the allegations unearthed by 60 Minutes and this masthead.
“Insofar as most of the material aired is old, Seven notes that it is before the Federal Court and the court process should be respected,” the company said. “Insofar as new allegations are made they do not appear to be supported by evidence.”
In the secret recordings, Mr Roberts-Smith described how the influence of Mr Stokes had forced those who supported scrutiny of the accused war criminal to back down.
“They seemed to have smelled blood in the water and thought, ‘Oh, Roberts-Smith is going down, we’ll f—ing chime in.’ I’m talking politicians and all kinds of people,” he said.
But after it became known Mr Stokes supported him, these same critics “are like, ‘Oh, thanks Kerry, glad you can help Ben out’. What the f— is that? You wanted me to go down, you piece of shit.”
The images on the USBs buried by Mr Roberts-Smith included photographs showing a senior commissioned Special Air Services Regiment commanding officer simulating a sex act with a high-ranking soldier using an object taken from a model camel.
Another image is one that shows what former defence force chief Chris Barrie told The Age, the Herald and 60 Minutes was credible evidence of the war crime of desecrating a corpse.
If you are a current or former ADF member, or a relative, and need counselling or support, contact the Defence All-Hours Support Line on 1800 628 036 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046.
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