Obeid faces ‘criminal conspiracy’ claim

Obeid faces ‘criminal conspiracy’ claim
Updated: 15:27, Monday February 4, 2013
Obeid faces ‘criminal conspiracy’ claim

Former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid engaged in a criminal conspiracy with former minister Ian Macdonald and members of the Obeid family to defraud the people of NSW, a corruption inquiry has heard.

The accusation was put to Mr Obeid in the witness box by counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry, Geoffrey Watson SC, on Monday.

Mr Obeid was not asked to respond to the claim.

Mr Watson said he was merely outlining his case and his line of questioning to Mr Obeid at an inquiry which has heard the Obeid family stood to make at least $75 million, and possibly much more, from decisions made by Mr Macdonald regarding rich coal land in the Bylong Valley, 150km west of Newcastle.

Mr Watson’s allegation came after a testy series of exchanges surrounding ethical issues in which Commissioner David Ipp warned Mr Obeid that failing to answer simple questions detracted from the credibility of his evidence, and Mr Obeid declared he would not be intimidated.

Mr Watson at one stage told Mr Obeid not to smile, prompting an objection from Mr Obeid’s counsel, Stuart Littlemore QC.

A defiant Mr Obeid told Mr Watson: ‘I will not be intimidated by you or anyone else.’

Commissioner Ipp said being asked questions was not intimidation.

‘If I smile I don’t expect to be insulted,’ Mr Obeid said.

ICAC is investigating claims that Mr Macdonald rigged a 2008 tender process for coal exploration licences in the Bylong Valley.

It is also investigating whether Eddie Obeid and his family gained substantial financial benefit from it.

The ethical argument centred on a hypothetical question about whether it was appropriate for a minister to knowingly create a mining tenement over property owned by his friend, who also happened to be an MP, and whether the friend had any ethical obligation to disclose his status as an MP.

Mr Obeid said he didn’t believe a minister should do that. ‘It’s inappropriate. I consider it wrong,’ he said, but could not furnish reasons why he held this opinion.

But the friend had no choice in the matter, he said.

‘The minerals are owned by the state. The individual has no say in it. It’s up to the government and the department to decide what to do in the best interests of the state. You can’t stop progress.’

The hearing continues.
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