ICAC to grill three ex-Labor ministers

The players in the Bylong Valley.The explosive allegations of corruption against three former NSW Labor ministers is set to embroil the party for months with the corruption watchdog announcing its inquiry will begin on November 1 and run until at least April.

Last Friday the Independent Commission Against Corruption began serving summonses on witnesses to give evidence at the public inquiry.

In a media release issued today, the ICAC said it had been conducting three separate investigations “concerning corruption allegations” involving the former NSW Minister for Primary Industries and Mineral Resources, Ian Macdonald, former minister for mineral resources Eddie Obeid, and former minister for roads and commerce, Eric Roozendaal.

Operation Jasper will examine the circumstances surrounding a decision made in 2008 by Mr Macdonald to open a mining area in the Bylong Valley, near Mudgee, for coal exploration. The public inquiry will examine “whether the decision was influenced by Edward Obeid.”

In September 2008, Mr Macdonald invited companies to apply for 11 coal exploration licences being opened up in NSW.

The Herald has previously revealed that several licences were awarded to a $1 company run by a 36-year-old Bankstown mortgage broker, Andrew Kaidbay, who had no experience in the resources industry.

Mr Kaidbay is an associate of the Obeid family and was the director of three resource companies in which the Obeids’ majority shareholding was hidden via a nominee company.

The Obeid family paid $3.65 million for Cherrydale Park in the Bylong Valley nine months before the tender opened. Mr Obeid’s son Moses encouraged associates to buy other properties in the area, telling them: “We can’t be seen to be buying them all.”

One friend, Justin Kennedy Lewis, bought Coggan Creek, where an open-cut mine is now scheduled. Another Obeid associate, Gladesville accountant John Campo, bought a key property.

Operation Jasper will also look at how Cascade Coal came to be the successful bidder for the Mount Penny and Glendon Brook licences and whether confidential information was “provided to, and used by persons associated with Cascade Coal.”

The commission is also examining the circumstances in which Monaro Coal was awarded an exploration licence of Yarrawa. Monaro Coal changed its name to Loyal Coal, the sole director of which was Andrew Kaidbay.

Cascade Coal later bought rights to the Obeids’ property for an undisclosed sum, believed to be more than $10 million. Cascade Coal, a former events management company run by boutique investment banker Richard Poole, had been set up in August 2008, the same week expressions of interest in the coal exploration licences were called.

Joining Richard Poole on the Cascade board as the tender was closing were some well-known and extremely wealthy players in the mining industry – John McGuigan, John Atkinson, Brian Flannery, John Kinghorn and Travers Duncan.

But when the publicly listed White Energy announced it had been offered the chance to buy Cascade Coal for almost $500 million, there was an outcry among shareholders. Not only was Cascade’s only asset two exploration licences acquired for $1 million but most of Cascade’s directors were also directors of White Energy. These directors stood to make close to $60 million each if the deal went ahead, which it did not.

The second investigation, Operation Acacia will examine the circumstances surrounding the issue of an invitation to a company associated with former union boss John Maitland.

“The third investigation, Operation Indus, will examine the circumstances in which Edward Obeid’s son, Moses Obeid, provided Mr Roozendaal with a Honda CRV motor vehicle in June 2007. At the time, Mr Roozendaal was the Minister for Commerce and the Minister for Roads,” said the media release.

The Herald reported last year that in mid-June 2007, Mr Roozendaal, then the roads minister, arrived at an inner-city car dealer’s and asked for the keys to his new car, a top-of-the-range black Honda CRV.

The dealer, who had previously provided cars to Eddie Obeid and members of his family said Moses Obeid had told him the Obeids were organising a car for Mr Roozendaal.

Mr Roozendaal previously confirmed that Moses Obeid had organised the purchase for him but said his actions had “all been completely kosher” and he had paid for the car himself.

Eddie Obeid said he knew nothing of the matter. “I don’t know anything about it and Eric has done me no favours in politics. What is the favour that Eric could do me? There’s no favours that Eric can do for me in anything,” Mr Obeid said last year. “You write one thing out of place, I tell you what, I will go for you, for the jugular,” he said.

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