EDDIE Obeid has denied any involvement in “shonky” business dealings, and says he has little or no knowledge of millions of dollars flowing through his family trust’s loan accounts.
The former NSW Labor factional boss concluded two days of often fractious exchanges at a Sydney corruption hearing on Tuesday by denying that he sought or received any insider information from former minister Ian Macdonald regarding valuable coal tenements in the Bylong Valley, west of Newcastle.
He agreed that Mr Macdonald had stayed “rent free” at the Obeid family’s ski lodge at Perisher, and that his sons had probably picked up bills for meals he had at the restaurant there.
But he said the same hospitality had been extended to many other political friends, including former NSW premier Morris Iemma, current Labor leader John Robertson and federal minister Bill Shorten.
“We are generous people and we like to share our generosity with our friends,” Mr Obeid told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Mr Obeid agreed he had listed his only income in the parliamentary assets register as his MP’s salary.
Asked by counsel assisting the commission, Geoffrey Watson SC, how he had managed to “squirrel away” from that salary 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.
Referring to an amount of $330,000 he had loaned to his family’s Bylong Valley farm, he said it was the proceeds of a successful defamation suit against The Sydney Morning Herald over the failed Oasis building project in western Sydney.
Shown a copy of his personal loan account from the family trust, to which he owed $2.3 million, he said, “It’s the first time I have seen it.”
Asked what intention he had to repay it, he said, “None.” But he added that the trust had owed him money from 1986.
Mr Watson presented documents showing Mr Obeid and his wife Judith were the ultimate beneficiaries of the family trust.
But Mr Obeid said he had never received a benefit from the trust in the 39 years since he set it up.
The former accountant 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.
“It looks shonky, doesn’t it?” asked Mr Watson.
“No, because you haven’t asked the right people,” Mr Obeid replied. “I don’t believe my family does anything shonky.”
Mr Obeid said he did not believe it was necessary to declare benefits he received in the form of household bills paid by his wife Judith from her family trust loan account, which she owed $1.7 million.
“It’s not an expense required to be put down,” he said.
ICAC is investigating claims that Mr Macdonald rigged a 2008 tender process for coal exploration licences in the Bylong Valley, and whether Eddie Obeid and his family gained substantial financial benefit from it.
Obeid’s son Moses has admitted the Obeid family stood to benefit by at least $75 million from decisions taken by Mr Macdonald. – AAP