Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Macdonald, Obeid facing charges - The Australian

Political editor Dennis Shanahan says the latest ICAC findings could negatively impact on federal Labor support in Western Sydney.

The NSW ICAC has found that former MPs Ian McDonald and Eddie Obeid acted corruptly over mining licences.

Eddie Obeid enters ICAC with his lawyers. Picture: Craig Greenhill Source: The Daily Telegraph

Ian Macdonald leaves the ICAC inquiry on his the last day of questioning. Picture: John Grainger Source: The Daily Telegraph

FORMER NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former NSW mining minister Ian Macdonald have been found by the NSW ICAC to have acted corruptly and referred for possible criminal charges.

The long-running Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry has also made corruption findings against Mr Obeid's son Moses.

However it cleared former NSW roads minister Eric Roozendaal, finding there was insufficient evidence to show he knew of arrangements that led to him benefiting from a discounted car.

The findings, contained in three reports, follow six months of sensational hearings and more than 150 witnesses. The inquiries revealed corruption reaching some of the highest levels in both the Right and Left of the NSW Labor Party.

ICAC found Mr Obeid, the one-time head of the powerful Labor right faction, and his son Moses, acted corruptly in the process of obtaining and selling a mining exploration licence on their property.

Commissioner David Ipp recommended that Mr Macdonald, Eddie Obeid and Moses Obeid all be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions to face possible criminal charges over their involvement in the Mount Penny coal mine.

ICAC found Mr Macdonald rigged a 2008 tender process to grant a coal licence over land at Mount Penny owned by the Obeid family, enabling the Obeids to make $30 million.

ICAC said Mr Macdonald could face "the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud or misconduct in public office" over his conduct in agreeing with the Obeids to act contrary to his public duty as a minister.

The Obeids were also recommended to each be considered for conspiracy to defraud.

Mr Ipp was scathing of the conduct of Mr Obeid and Mr Macdonald.

He called Mr Macdonald an "unsatisfactory witness" who gave "deliberately untrue evidence".

Mr Obeid was "an aggressive witness and seemed to be more concerned with imposing his will on the proceedings than simply telling the truth," Mr Ipp said.

The commissioner also said that Moses Obeid was "willing to lie or mislead whenever it suited his purpose".

Moses Obeid later issued a statement denying any wrongdoing. "I deny any unlawful behaviour on my part," he said. "The allegations against me are strongly denied as is any suggestion that I have acted corruptly."

Eddie Obeid said the ICAC report was superficial and biased and he denied he had acted corruptly.

"I reject the assertions by the commissioner that I acted in any way that could amount to corrupt conduct," he said in a statement. He also indicated he would take legal action to seek a review of the findings.

A number of high-profile businessmen also face corruption findings over their involvement in Mount Penny.

They include senior mining executives Travers Duncan and John McGuigan, well known business figure John Kinghorn, merchant banker Richard Poole and John Atkinson, a former partner at the law firm Baker & McKenzie.

The consortium of investors in Cascade Coal - in which the Obeids had disguised their 25 per cent stake - won the right to explore for coal at Mount Penny.

Each of them have also been recommended for possible prosecution for the offence of obtaining financial advantage by deception.

In public hearings that began last November, ICAC heard the Obeid family enriched itself by between $75 million and $175m as a result of receiving inside information on the granting of exploration licences and the companies invited by Mr Macdonald's department to express an interest.

Using various shelf companies, the Obeids struck a deal with the successful tenderer, Cascade Coal, to sell Cherrydale Park for four times its market value, and to take a 25 per cent stake in the exploration licence, which is estimated to be worth about $500m.

Several high-profile business figures who invested in Cascade were also questioned in the inquiry.

ICAC has recommended the matter be referred to the NSW Crime Commission to strip the millions of dollars from the Obeid family that they made from the Cascade coal and Yarrawa tenement deals, even if the Obeid family is not found guilty of a criminal offence.

The ICAC further referred the tax arrangements of the Obeid family to the Australian Taxation Office, which showed millions being paid to family members through the Obeid family trust.

In a separate report, Mr Macdonald was also found to have acted corruptly and could face criminal charges for accepting the sexual services of a prostitute organised by former Sydney property developer, now accused murderer, Rod Medich.

The prostitute was organised in July 2009 by Mr Medich's former right hand man, Fortunato (Lucky) Gattellari, who is currently serving a jail sentence in relation the murder of Sydney standover man Michael McGurk. Mr Medich is accused of Mr McGurk's murder.

The ICAC found that Mr Macdonald accepted the services of the prostitute, named Tiffanie, in return for organising a dinner at Sydney's Tuscany restaurant between Country Energy executive Craig Murray and Mr Medich in an attempt to further Mr Medich's electrical contract company. Mr Murray is not accused of any wrongdoing.

Mr Ipp has also that advised the DPP consider prosecuting Mr Medich for corruptly giving a benefit to the minister.

As part of its investigations, ICAC also found Mr Obeid's son, Moses, engaged in corrupt conduct over a $10,800 car for former Labor minister Eric Roozendaal.

The corruption watchdog investigated whether Mr Roozendaal received a new Honda CRV at $10,800 less than its original value in return for political favours for his colleague, Eddie Obeid.

The ICAC reports said Moses Obeid "provided a benefit to Mr Roozendaal as an inducement for him to show favour to Obeid business interests in the exercise of his official functions".

Mr Roozendaal was not found to have acted corruptly.

He said ICAC had cleared him and restored his reputation.

`I have always maintained that I acted appropriately and ethically during my parliamentary career and in the best interests for the people of NSW," he said in a statement. "I am glad we can move on now."

The ICAC inquiry opened in November last year with counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, saying "it is corruption on a scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corps".

The federal opposition is poised to capitalise on the reports, with Joe Hockey declaring the revelations from ICAC were a reflection of "the whole of Labor".

"Labor is rotten to the core...

"We look forward to hearing what ICAC has to say about the real facts behind the state of Labor," he said.

The issue is killing state Labor in NSW, with the latest Newspoll showing the Coalition leading the ALP 61-39 on a two-party preferred basis.

Mr Rudd staged an "intervention" in the NSW branch as one of his first announcements upon returning as Prime Minister, handing control of the branch to the ALP national executive.

He has also vowed to hand at least 50 per cent of votes on the party's powerful administrative committee to rank-and-file members.

Labor's NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari said today there was relief within Labor that the long and damaging saga was coming to an end.

"Of course it is unhelpful for the party to have these matters being played out on the eve of an election," he told The Australian.

"The Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been clear that he'll take whatever steps are necessary to make sure these things will never, ever happen again, and party members welcome that."

Mr Rudd said today he was "disgusted" with the revelations to have emerged in the ICAC.

"Anyone who is responsible for corruption, for illegal behaviour, should face the full force of the law.

"That's what I want to see happen."


 


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