Australian ambassador to the US Joe Hockey says an allegation he owed his good friend and Helloworld chief executive Andrew Burnes something is "absolute nonsense".
A spotlight has been shone on the relationship between Mr Hockey, Mr Burnes, the Helloworld travel company and its pursuit of federal government contracts in recent days.
Mr Hockey is one of the top 20 shareholders in Helloworld, but Australian Foreign Affairs officials say they are confident he has met the rules required of him in declaring his links to the travel company.
"The allegation that I somehow 'owe' Mr Burnes is absolute nonsense," Mr Hockey said in a statement on Friday.
"It is also and, most importantly, irrelevant to the conduct of the tender process run by DFAT, which I am not a party to."
A letter from former Helloworld employee Russell Carstensen said Mr Burnes, who is also the Liberal Party's treasurer, called in a favour to arrange a 2017 meeting with Mr Hockey.
"I asked Mr Burnes how could this be done so quickly, he verbally advised me, 'Hockey owes me'," Mr Carstensen wrote in the letter to a Senate committee, released on Thursday.
Mr Hockey said after becoming ambassador he was permitted to own shares and make investments, "provided that they were appropriately disclosed".
"At all times, I complied with those disclosure rules, as has been noted by DFAT in Senate Estimates hearings," Mr Hockey said.
"In the United States, I had regular complaints from staff and, in particular, consulates, about the quality of travel services provided by local suppliers to the Australian Embassy and consulates across the United States.
"I subsequently learned that Embassy travel arrangements had not been reviewed for 20 years."
The ambassador said he received an email from Mr Carstensen on 24 April, 2017, indicating he would be in Washington DC and would be available to visit the Embassy to discuss travel business.
"QBT and/or its associates in the Helloworld Group had been providing various travel services to the Federal Government since 2012," Mr Hockey said.
"Prior to the scheduling of the meeting, I had made the Minister Counsellor (Management) and Consul General in the Embassy aware of both my friendship with Mr Burnes at Helloworld and my shareholding.
"Mr Burnes and his wife Cinzia are close personal friends of my family and have been for nearly 20 years.
"Our friendship is not a secret given that we undertook treks for both the Kokoda Trail and Mt Kilimanjaro with TV cameras present.
"I decided to join the meeting since Helloworld/QBT was, and still is, the existing approved supplier of travel to DFAT.
"It is normal practice for ambassadors to meet with official suppliers of services to their department.
"The meeting was a general discussion about current arrangements for the delivery of travel services in the United States and Australia.
"There were no commercial opportunities with the Embassy offered or available.
"After the meeting, I noted to the Minister Counsellor (Management) and Consul General in the Embassy that I wanted no further engagement with Helloworld/QBT on this matter.
"It is deeply regrettable that the circumstances around the meeting between the Embassy and QBT have been misrepresented.
"One week after the meeting, Mr Carstensen wrote back to me.
"I did not respond to his email.
"I forwarded it to my executive assistant and heard nothing more.
"Since that time, I have excused myself from all discussions and decisions relating to the procurement of travel services.
"The US travel arrangements have since gone to tender, nearly 15 months after the meeting in April 2017 with Mr Carstensen.
"The Chief Financial Officer of DFAT in Canberra is the decision-maker for this ongoing tender."
Australian Associated Press