ICAC: Coal farm tip-off

THE Obeid family used ‘‘inside information’’ that coalmining would start in NSW’s Bylong Valley to snap up farms sitting on lucrative coal deposits, a corruption inquiry has heard.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption  is investigating former Labor minister Ian Macdonald’s decision in 2008 to open the Bylong Valley to coalmining and how it benefited another ex-minister, Eddie Obeid.

Mr Macdonald is accused of doing the bidding of Obeid family members, who allegedly hid their involvement through complex trust and company structures.

Confidential documents made by Chris  Rumore, a lawyer for the Obeid family, were shown to the inquiry  yesterday, revealing the Obeids knew about a government expressions of interest (EOI) process to open up coalmining in the Bylong Valley  before the EOI was issued.

One of the documents  referred to a meeting between Mr Rumore and Paul and Gerard Obeid, two sons of Eddie Obeid, on June 23, 2008.

The government EOI was issued on September 9, 2008.

‘‘The Obeids were telling you that an EOI would issue ... and they knew that it would relate to obviously coal,’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson put to Mr Rumore.

‘‘Yes,’’ Mr Rumore replied.

The inquiry has previously heard only high-level officials inside the department of primary industries or the minister’s office should have had access to the ‘‘inside information’’.

The inquiry was told that in 2008 the Obeid family acquired two properties in the coal-rich Bylong Valley located close to another property, Cherrydale Park, that Eddie Obeid had acquired in September 2007.

Mr Rumore said the Obeids stood to gain financially from the purchases after the EOI was issued and mining leases were granted over the land.

‘‘I was always told that the Obeids expected that when the mining lease was granted that their property would increase three to four times its current value as a rural property,’’ Mr Rumore  told the inquiry.

Mr Rumore said at the time he did not consider the EOI information was secret because it was openly discussed by the Obeids.

Earlier, John Cherry, a former accountant and farmer who sold Cherrydale Park to the Obeids, said Eddie Obeid wanted to change  details on  documents  to hide his involvement.

Mr Cherry said Mr Obeid wanted to make the changes to create the appearance that ‘‘he was against coalmining in the Bylong Valley’’.

The inquiry will continue  today.   

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