Australia’s most decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has taken leave from Channel Seven as he fights claims he is a war criminal.
The former SAS trooper is suing Seven rival Nine for defamation over a series of newspaper articles and TV reports accusing him of being complicit in the killing of Afghanistan detainees.
Seven West Media chief executive James Warburton on Monday told staff it was a ‘mutual decision’ to take leave ahead of the former corporal’s trial.
The high-profile legal battle will start in June and is expected to run for eight weeks – but Mr Warburton doesn’t expect Mr Roberts-Smith to return to work until September.
Ben Roberts-Smith has taken leave from Channel Seven amid his upcoming legal battle with rival Nine
The Victoria Cross recipient will take leave from his role as general manager of Seven’s Queensland bureau while the defamation case is afoot.
Mr Warburton confirmed the leave in an all-staff email on Monday.
He said Mr Roberts-Smith would take leave from Monday ‘to focus on his upcoming legal matters’.
‘Ben and I believe this mutual decision is best for both him and our company,’ Mr Warburton wrote.
‘We expect Ben to return to his role upon the completion of his defamation proceedings.
‘As the trial is currently set down for eight weeks, it’s likely that won’t be until after August.’
The decision to stand him down came as Mr Roberts-Smith launched an extraordinary attack on the county’s top brass for their ‘disgusting’ treatment of veterans.
He also accused military commanders of running Australia’s longest war in Afghanistan from the safety and comfort of Dubai, without ever having a campaign strategy.
He scolded the ‘staggering’ lack of direction.
Mr Roberts-Smith thanked the Australian public for helping push for a royal commission into veteran suicides in the face of resistance, warning it would uncover systemic failures and flaws.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine News for defamation over articles accusing him of committing war crimes in Afghanistan
Mr Roberts-Smith (pictured, with girlfriend Sarah Matulin) left the army in 2013 and began studying business at the University of Queensland
‘It’s what we need to do to protect the future of the military and more importantly, the people that are willing to sacrifice everything,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
Mr Roberts-Smith landed in strife a few weeks ago after he was recorded in leaked audio praising boss Kerry Stokes but disparaging other Seven West Media staff.
Stokes, who is worth an estimated $6billion, has openly financed the 42-year-old’s legal defence. That figure had reached $1.9million as of November, 2020.
In audio recordings obtained for an exposé by 60 Minutes, Mr Roberts-Smith is openly dismissive of the claims against him, pointing to Stokes’ loyalty and wealth as a cause for optimism.
‘There’s no f***ing way I’d be able to keep paying what I’m paying for until Kerry got into it,’ Roberts-Smith says in the recordings.
‘That’s why now they’re s****ing themselves now because he’s prepared to run his bank down to do it.’
Mr Roberts-Smith landed in strife a few weeks ago after he was recorded in leaked audio praising boss Kerry Stokes but disparaging other Seven West Media staff
Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Mr Ben Roberts-Smith at Buckingham Palace in 2018
Roberts-Smith directly referenced Stokes in the obtained recordings, admitting he is ‘indebted’ to the powerful media boss.
‘Bottom line I’d be f***ed without him,’ he says of Stokes in the audio.
‘I probably won’t leave the fold now. I think I’m indebted a little bit now to Kerry.
‘I’d be f***ed without him.’
Roberts-Smith hit back at the bombshell report, claiming the expose was ‘not supported by any evidence’ and part of a plan to ‘intimidate’ him to abandon a defamation suit against Nine and Fairfax journalist Nick McKenzie.
‘Mr Roberts-Smith has grave concerns as to whether the broadcast this evening by Nine is an attempt to intimidate him into not proceeding with his case against Mr McKenzie and Nine,’ he said in a statement.
Then-CEO of Seven West Media Tim Worner lauded Roberts-Smith’s ‘leadership’ following his hiring, while former executive Neil Mooney described the soldier as an ‘outstanding person’
Kerry Stokes (pictured), who is worth an estimated $6billion, has openly financed Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal defence
Mr Roberts-Smith left the army in 2013 and began studying business at the University of Queensland.
Channel Seven handed the VC winner a role as the Deputy Regional Manager of Queensland’s regional network.
Then-CEO of Seven West Media Tim Worner lauded Roberts-Smith’s ‘leadership’ following his hiring, while former executive Neil Mooney described the soldier as an ‘outstanding person’.
‘Ben will be an excellent leader. He is an outstanding person. When it comes to leadership he ticks all the right boxes,’ Mooney said at the time of Roberts-Smith’s appointment to the role.
More to come