Ministers dragged into Obeid scandal

NAMES: ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid leaves the ICAC after giving evidence. Picture: Dallas KilponenTHREE of Labor’s most senior politicians – federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson – have been dragged into a corruption probe after admitting they accepted lavish ski trips from the ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

In his final few moments in the witness box at the Independent Commission Against Corruption yesterday, Mr Obeid named six senior Labor figures he claimed had accepted thousands of dollars worth of hospitality from his family in a lodge at the Perisher ski resort.

Mr Obeid was being questioned about his generosity to former state mining minister Ian Macdonald, who is accused of providing the Obeid family confidential information about a government coal tender.

Mr Macdonald was given a rent-free holiday at the Obeids’ three-bedroom ski lodge, The Stables at Perisher, which costs more than $7500 a week in peak season.

The Obeids also picked up Mr Macdonald’s meal tab.

Mr Obeid denied providing such hospitality was to create obligations on behalf of other people.

‘‘We’re generous people and we like to share our generosity with our friends,’’ he said.

Mr Obeid added that he thought the federal Workplace Minister, Bill Shorten, had enjoyed a holiday on the slopes with Mr Burke.

Mr Obeid was mistaken. It was not Mr Shorten, who doesn’t ski, it was his colleague Mr Conroy, who said last night: ‘‘I wish to declare one stay for two days at this apartment in either 2005 or 2006’’.

Mr Burke said: ‘‘Given the media interest which has emerged today, I declare two separate stays at this accommodation in the period 2004 to 2006’’.

Both Mr Burke and Mr Conroy said the Obeid family was not present during the stays.

Mr Obeid said the former NSW premier Morris Iemma, the former NSW minister Carl Scully and the former federal minister turned lobbyist Mark Arbib had all stayed at The Stables lodge.

Mr Iemma denied the claim. Mr Scully said he stayed there twice but ‘‘as this was from a fellow parliamentary colleague I did not at the time believe I was required to declare it in the pecuniary interest register’’.

Mr Robertson and Mr Arbib confirmed they had accepted Mr Obeid’s hospitality, but said it was before they entered Parliament.

Mr Robertson said his trip, with his family, occurred in 2007 when he was the head of Unions NSW.

He said no politicians or members of the Obeid family were present.

Mr Obeid’s testimony came as a result of a two-year investigation undertaken by the ICAC into an allegedly corrupt 2008 coal licence tender run by Mr Macdonald that led to windfall gains for the Obeid family of more than $75 million.

During his second day of interrogation by counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson SC, Mr Obeid was grilled about his own pecuniary interest declaration, which made no mention of the millions of dollars flowing from the Obeid family trust, of which he and his wife were the ultimate beneficiaries.

Mr Obeid repeatedly declared he did not know and could not explain the workings of the accounts – including how it was that payments made to his family’s business partners, its staff and even to himself were channelled through his wife’s loan account.

Although he said he had trained and worked as an accountant early in his career, Mr Obeid said: ‘‘I have no knowledge of these accounts.’’

Taking Mr Obeid through page after page of mysterious account entries, counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson SC, remarked: ‘‘It looks shonky, doesn’t it?’’

‘‘I don’t believe my family does anything shonky,’’ Mr Obeid replied, becoming increasingly angry at the questions being asked of him. This was despite the fact he had not declared the $2.3 million he had drawn from his family trust between 2001 and 2011.

Asked how he had managed to ‘‘squirrel away’’ from his MP’s salary (the only income listed in his parliamentary assets register) hundreds of thousands of dollars, as reflected in his family trust loan account, he snapped: ‘‘Don’t squirrel me. I’ve spent more money than you have made in a lifetime.’’

When Commissioner David Ipp asked him where that money had come from, he said he had been very successful in business and had ‘‘more money than you could imagine’’ before he went into Parliament in 1990, after handing control of the family business to his sons.

Corruption watchdog airs family’s dirty laundry


FINALLY the Independent Commission Against Corruption has got down to the Obeid’s dirty laundry – literally.

As the corruption watchdog tries to unscramble the accounts of the Obeid empire, what’s emerged is a picture that is both mundane and exotic.

At the heart of it are several trust funds that lend Obeid family members money to support their lifestyles.

Each member appears to have a loan account which they draw upon to pay for luxury cars, houses in Sydney’s prestigious suburbs, credit cards and holidays.

ICAC has now turned its sights on Mr Obeid senior’s financial arrangements and those of his wife Judith, casting real doubt on Mr Obeid’s claims for the last decade that he had no other income other than his parliamentary salary.

Let’s start with the exotic. The commission wanted to know about nearly $30,000 paid to Rydges Port Macquarie in 2007 by the trust from Judith Obeid’s loan account.

‘‘You’re talking nine families and we own one unit and you’re talking rotating each 10 days,’’ Mr Obeid explained.

Then there was the mundane: the Obeid dry cleaning. It is apparently dropped at Hunters Hill newsagent by his wife, who then pays for it via a loan account through the Obeid Family Trust No.1.

Mrs Obeid has racked up $1.7million in loans to the trust even though she has no employment outside the home.

Also under scrutiny was Mr Obeid’s loan account. In 2001 it held $1.6million. But it was drawn down as Mr Obeid bought a unit in Port Macquarie, and drew down funds, often in $10,000 increments.