Obeid link to Tigers under the spotlight
Date January 7, 2013 15 reading now
Kate McClymont, Linton Besser
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Eddie Obeid … linked to the Balmain Tigers development. Photo: Dean Sewell
THE question of whether the family of the former Labor MP Eddie Obeid has a financial interest in the controversial Balmain Tigers development has resurfaced with the appointment of an Obeid associate to the chairmanship of Wests Tigers.
Nick Di Girolamo, 42, is a close family friend of the Obeids who has borrowed an undisclosed sum of money from Mr Obeid’s son Eddie jnr.
Through his position on the Tigers board, which has a 50 per cent stake in Wests Tigers, Mr Di Girolamo has been pushing for the controversial Balmain Tigers redevelopment at Rozelle.
Controversial … an artist’s impression of the Balmain Tigers development.
Another Obeid associate, the former Tigers rugby league great Benny Elias, has an interest in the redevelopment, which has been rejected repeatedly by planning authorities.
A $2 company run by Mr Elias’s brother Joe won the tender for the multimillion-dollar maritime development at Blackwattle Bay in 2009. Mr Elias was assisted in his bid by Eddie Obeid jnr.
Frank Sartor, the former planning minister, recently gave evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption that the only time his colleague Mr Obeid lobbied him directly was over the redevelopment of the Tigers football club. ”You’ve got to call it in, mate, we’ve got to get things done,” Mr Sartor told the commission Mr Obeid said.
In his book, Mr Sartor said Mr Obeid urged him ”to declare it to be a major project under Part 3A and to deal with it”. Mr Sartor declined.
Mr Obeid has previously admitted attending a meeting in 2010 relating to the Balmain redevelopment with the planning minister Tony Kelly and Richard Pearson, the deputy director-general of the planning department. Mr Obeid said he was asked to help by a friend, Nick Di Girolamo, who was a board director. But corporate documents reveal that Mr Di Girolamo was not on the Balmain Tigers board until 2011.
Despite the development being rejected by planning authorities last year because its two towers, at 16 storeys each, were too high, the developers increased the proposal to 32 storeys and 26 storeys. Yet another proposal has been put forward for 27 and 25 storeys.
Asked if he or his family had any stake in the Tigers, Mr Obeid said: ”I don’t wish to talk or make any comment.”
Mr Di Girolamo is the chairman of Australian Water Holdings, a company that had Eddie Obeid jnr on its payroll. Mr Obeid snr lobbied extensively on the company’s behalf while in Parliament.
The former state treasurer Michael Costa, who recently quit as chairman of AWH, said he joined the board after Mr Obeid introduced him to his ”family friend” Mr Di Girolamo, who has strong connections to the Liberal Party. Mr Di Girolamo holds shares in AWH on behalf of the company’s former chairman Arthur Sinodinis, now a federal Liberal senator.
Last year AWH and Sydney Water entered a new 25-year exclusive agreement to give AWH the sole right to project manage $500 million of water infrastructure work in Sydney’s north-west growth centre.
ICAC recently seized AWH-related documents from Sydney Water.
Mr Di Girolamo denied that any of the Obeids had any interest in AWH. Several AWH shareholders have been revealed to be ”fronts” for the Obeid family. A Strathfield real estate agent, Joseph Georges, is being used by the Obeid family to hide its interest in the Elizabeth Bay marina. Mr Georges has been called to give evidence about his relationship to the Obeids when ICAC resumes late this month.
Greg Skehan, a partner at the law firm Colin Biggers & Paisley, is another AWH shareholder. Mr Skehan’s role as a front for the Obeids to hide their interest directly in a mining venture was recently revealed at ICAC.
A Herald investigation also reveals that Mr Di Girolamo is a director of a resources company, Anconna Resources, with the Obeids’ lawyer Sevag Chalabian.
Mr Chalabian, a former partner at Phillips Fox, admitted helping the Obeids to create an elaborate series of trusts and front companies to disguise a $60 million payment the Obeids were to receive from Cascade Coal, which won what is now alleged to have been a rigged government tender. The corruption inquiry heard that Mr Chalabian’s trust account was used to disguise the identity of the recipient of the first $30 million payment to the Obeids.
The inquiry also heard that Eddie Obeid jnr ran messages between Mr Chalabian and Cascade Coal director Richard ”Digger” Poole over the buyout of the Obeids’ 25 per cent stake in Cascade.
Mr Skehan is also a shareholder in Anconna Resources. According to the Italian Chamber of Commerce, of which Mr Di Girolamo is the chairman, ”Anconna Resources is an Australian-based resources company with substantive links to business and government throughout Australia”.
Anconna’s role is to guide ”foreign investors through the process of investing in Australian resources projects”.
But in a statement to Fairfax Media, Mr Girolamo said “Anconna Resources was established to provide consulting services to the resources and mining industry in Asia. It has not traded and I am no longer a director nor shareholder.”
His spokesman, John Wells from corporate advisory firm Wells Haslem, told Fairfax Media that Mr Di Girolamo had resigned from the company but corporate documents are yet to reveal those changes.
Apart from Mr Skehan’s private company holding shares, another shareholder in Anconna is Tennille Koelma, whose husband Tim Koelma is a former aide to the Resources Minister, Chris Hartcher. Mr Koelma was suspended on full pay in late March for allegedly overseeing a slush fund that took donations to support the minister’s favoured candidates on the central coast. He has since resigned.
Mr Chalabian, Mr Skehan and Mr and Mrs Koelma did not return Fairfax Media’s calls.
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