Disgraced former ministers Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald to be jailed over mining tender plot
Disgraced ex-ministers Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid will spend years in prison over plotting to rig a lucrative mining tender last decade, when they were both members of NSW parliament.
The two former Labor MLCs and Obeid’s son, Moses, were convicted earlier this year of conspiring to commit misconduct in public office over a 2009 mining exploration licence that led to a $30m windfall for the Obeids.
On Thursday, the trio’s fate was revealed by Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Fullerton, who sentenced Macdonald, 72, to the heftiest sentence of nine and a half years in prison with a non-parole period of five years and three months.
Fallen party powerbroker Eddie Obeid received a sentence of seven years with a non-parole period of three years and 10 months, and Moses Obeid, 52, to five and three years respectively.
Macdonald and Moses Obeid were taken into custody after the sentences were handed down on Thursday.
But the elder Obeid evaded prison for at least one more night as a frustrated Justice Fullerton granted his eleventh hour bid for bail on the basis he might die if he contracts Covid-19.
The judge described the seriousness of their offending as in “the highest order”, partly because the men were so clearly aware of the duties of holding public office at the time they had plotted to exploit it.
The agreement struck between the three men related to the 2009 granting of a coal exploration licence encompassing a large property owned by the Obeids at Mount Penny in the Bylong Valley, NSW.
The men conspired for Macdonald to “do what he could, where the opportunity presented” to further the Obeids’ financial interests in connection with the mining licence.
Justice Fullerton said she was satisfied the Mount Penny area was designated for new coal release at Macdonald’s “strong suggestion”, made in full knowledge the Obeids owned property there.
She found he committed five acts of public misconduct in carrying out the conspiracy, including asking his department for information related to the licence and giving information to the Obeids.
The scheme ultimately generated $60m, half of which was pocketed by the Obeids after they sold their interest in a joint venture Moses Obeid negotiated with Cascade Coal, the company that won the closed licence tender.
Criminal charges were brought against the three men following an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
It was “clear beyond question”, Justice Fullerton said, that the Obeids were motivated by money.
But she was not able to land on a motive for Macdonald beyond reasonable doubt, saying his possible reasons for engaging in the crime may have been “repaying a debt of gratitude” for the elder Obeid’s political support, or the hope his financial pressures might be alleviated by a future benefit.
The uncertainty on Macdonald’s motive did not “mitigate the extreme gravity” of his culpability, Justice Fullerton said, because if Macdonald had not used his ministerial role “there would have been no conspiracy at all”.
Justice Fullerton said she had seen no evidence the men accepted responsibility for their actions or acknowledged the damage they had wrought upon public trust.
Despite this, she found Moses Obeid was unlikely to reoffend.
As for the two disgraced former ministers, she said: “I am satisfied they are unlikely to have the opportunity to criminally misconduct themselves in the future.”
All three men intend to appeal their convictions and will seek to be released on bail ahead of the hearing.
Justice Fullerton granted bail to Eddie Obeid for one night before she hears his full release application on Friday.
His lawyer April Francis told Justice Fullerton she expected the judge would be persuaded a “miscarriage of justice” had occurred in his case.
Justice Fullerton said she had been told the men would be taken to Silverwater and placed in Covid-19 isolation but was advised in court they would in fact go to Surry Hills Police Centre for about 24 hours.
She said the corrections system appeared to have “failed at the first barrier” in terms of ensuring people with medical problems were not put at risk.
Given Eddie Obeid’s age and comorbidities “he needs to be extremely careful because if he contracts the virus death will be the predictable outcome”, Justice Fullerton said.
Eddie Obeid will be eligible for parole in August 2025, Macdonald in January 2027 and Moses Obeid in October 2024.
Originally published as Disgraced former ministers Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald to be jailed over mining tender plot
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