Australia’s most decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has lashed fresh allegations against him as “baseless”, while the Seven Network has confirmed he will continue in his current role with the company.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes and the Nine newspapers published secretly-recorded audio of Mr Roberts-Smith vowing to “destroy” those levelling war crimes allegations against him, and lauding Seven boss Kerry Stokes for financing his legal fight.
The report also accused Mr Roberts-Smith of burying a USB containing images of misconduct by soldiers in his backyard.
But in a statement on Monday, Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyers lashed the allegations as “baseless” and vowed to continue a defamation suit against journalist Nick McKenzie and the Nine newspapers.
They claimed the allegations were not put to Mr Roberts-Smith before they were aired, and the Victoria Cross recipient feared they were an attempt to intimidate him out of legal proceedings.
“The allegations aired this evening are baseless. These allegations are not supported by any evidence filed by Mr McKenzie and Nine in what has been an extensive pre-trial process,” the statement read.
“Mr Roberts-Smith denies that he has engaged in any unlawful conduct and he will not be intimidated by Mr McKenzie or Nine into not continuing with the Federal Court proceedings against them.”
The Seven Network also confirmed it had no intention of standing Mr Roberts-Smith aside from his role as company’s Queensland managing director.
It noted Mr Roberts-Smith’s denial of the allegations and said there was “no need to reconsider” his position.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“Insofar as new allegations are made they do not appear to be supported by evidence.”
The Seven Network is run by Kerry Stokes, also the chairman of the Australian War Memorial, who has bankrolled Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal defence over war crimes allegations.
In audio aired during the 60 Minutes program, Mr Roberts-Smith was heard saying Mr Stokes would “go all the way” in supporting his defence.
“There’s no f-ing way I’d be able to keep paying … until Kerry got into it,” he said.
“That’s why now they’re shitting themselves because he’s prepared to run his bank down to do it.”
Mr Roberts-Smith noted his surprise he was able to retain his job as a senior executive while under investigation, saying Seven had “been good” to him.
The report also revealed images on military bases in Afghanistan and Australia apparently depicting various forms of soldier misconduct, which it alleged were kept on a USB buried in Mr Roberts-Smith’s Queensland backyard.
One image appeared to show soldiers drinking from the prosthetic leg of an Afghan man, allegedly taken after he was killed.
In another, Mr Roberts-Smith was seen partying near a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit.
Another showed a dead Afghan man bleeding from his head, with two souvenir coins placed over his eyes. Two pairs of boots were visible next to the man’s head.