Obeid threatened with contempt charge as ICAC erupts
By court reporter Jamelle Wells and Peter Lloyd
Updated 18 seconds ago
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Map: Bylong 2849
Former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid was warned he could be charged with contempt of court and told to “stop arguing” during bad-tempered exchanges at the Independent Commission Against Corruption today.
In a tense and heated session, Mr Obeid was questioned about allegations he had inside knowledge of mining tenders and colluded with his Labor colleague, the former mining minister Ian Macdonald.
He said he was not involved in any alleged criminal conspiracy to defraud the people of New South Wales, but clashed repeatedly with counsel-assisting the commission Geoffrey Watson and with Commissioner David Ipp.
In the afternoon, after Mr Obeid had avoided answering certain questions all day, Mr Ipp warned Mr Obeid he could be charged with contempt of court.
Audio: Reporter Peter Lloyd discusses today’s events (The World Today)
“Mr Obeid, stop arguing. I’m warning you, answer the question, otherwise you will be held guilty of contempt,” he said.
“You persist in not answering the question, deliberately, and interrupting.
“Mr [Stuart] Littlemore is your barrister, you do not have to argue the case yourself.
“If you want me to I’ll ask Mr Littlemore to leave the hearing room, because you want to conduct the case yourself. Would you like me to do that?”
Mr Obeid replied, “No I wouldn’t.”
The ICAC inquiry has previously heard allegations the Obeid family and their associates stood to profit $100 million from mining deals in the Bylong Valley, west of Newcastle.
“It’s my intention to submit to the Commissioner that you, you Mr Obeid, engaged in a criminal conspiracy,” Mr Watson said as he opened proceedings today.
“You engaged in that with Ian Macdonald, and with members of your family. And the design was to effect a fraud on the people of New South Wales.”
Mr Obeid replied: “That’s incorrect.”
When asked by the counsel-assisting if he thought it was “appropriate for a government minister to put a tenement over a friend’s property”, Mr Obeid replied: “No.”
He said it is “wrong and inappropriate”.
After laughter erupted in the public gallery when Mr Obeid was questioned about ethics and responsibility, Mr Ipp warned people to restrain themselves.
“This is not a theatre,” he said.
Friends or rivals?
Mr Obeid was questioned about his relationship with Mr Macdonald.
Mr Obeid was the leader of ‘the Terrigals’, the right faction in the New South Wales Labor caucus, while Mr Macdonald came from the left faction – making them political rivals in theory.
Mr Obeid told the inquiry he regarded Mr Macdonald as a “political” as opposed to an ordinary friend.
But he did concede they had dined together many times and they had been together a lot in social settings.
Mr Obeid told the inquiry he made hundreds of phone calls to Mr Macdonald at a time when the former Labor government was was in turmoil.
He said they were only discussing politics.
Mr Obeid was grilled about whether or not he got inside knowledge about mining tenders from Mr Macdonald.
He said he did not know how confidential maps which were found during ICAC raids came to be in his family’s offices.
He also denied being the beneficiary of a family trust.
When asked what he told the ALP about the Obeid family making huge profits from a decision made by Mr Macdonald, Mr Obeid said: “Nothing.”
Mr Obeid later admitted he accepted phone calls from journalists.
“From friendly ones who tell the truth ” he said.