Jardine Fleming yesterday denied the involvement of a senior executive in negotiating payments for mercenaries hired by the Papua New Guinea Government to quell a rebellion. The company has launched an investigation into claims that assistant director Rupert McCowan acted as an intermediary between Papua New Guinea officials and professional soldiers working for British-based company Sandline International. Mr McCowan is alleged to have sought approval from Papua New Guinea banking authorities for the transfer of US$18 million (HK$140 million) to a Hong Kong bank. James Forrester, executive manager (treasury and international) for the PNG Banking Corporation, claimed Mr McCowan and Vele Iamo, under secretary for Papua New Guinea's Department of Finance, attended his office in Port Moresby in late January to discuss the transfer. Mr Forrester made the allegations to a Commission of Inquiry called by the Papua New Guinea Government into the hiring of the mercenaries for a final payment of US$36 million. The mercenaries were to be hired to suppress a long-running rebellion on Bougainville Island so that work could resume on a vast copper mine that had been closed for six years. The move sparked a crisis that led to prime minister Sir Julius Chan resigning. Jardine Fleming has engaged a leading firm of independent lawyers to attend the Royal Commission and has a Hong Kong team reviewing the evidence. Mr McCowan, based in Hong Kong and suspended on full pay, was sent to Papua New Guinea by Jardine Fleming to advise the Government on how to repurchase a stake in the Bougainville mine from the mining giant RTZ-CRA. Jardine Fleming was previously involved in the successful privatisation by the Papua New Guinea Government of its holding in Orogen Minerals. Jardine Fleming said Mr McCowan was sent to Port Moresby in January on a routine visit following a request from the Government. His role was to approach the RTZ-CRA on behalf of the Government to find out if they would sell. A Jardine Fleming spokesman said no contract with the Government was signed and Mr McCowan was withdrawn before any negotiations took place. He added: 'We would not have any dealings with mercenaries. As a company we would not condone it, as a group we would not have it.' In London, a spokesman for Sandline denied any involvement with Mr McCowan. He said: 'We don't need external financial advice. We know exactly what we are doing.'