Angry Obeid under fire

Eddie Obeid leaves ICAC.
Eddie Obeid leaves ICAC.

THE public demand to catch a glimpse of the former strongman of the ALP Eddie Obeid was so great that people brought camp stools to sit on as they queued for two hours before the star witness swore to tell the truth at the state's most sensational corruption inquiry.

As soon as the lunch adjournment was announced at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, avid spectators rushed to begin re-queueing for the afternoon session.

''It is not a guard of honour, I assure you!'' said one bespectacled member of the public as Mr Obeid, with his Order of Australia medal pinned to his lapel, strode down the middle of the queue on his way to lunch.

Mr Obeid, who had a shocking morning in the witness box, wheeled around and bellowed at the man: ''Get stuffed! Don't come here and make comments - just listen!''

Mr Obeid's barrister, Stuart Littlemore, QC, rounded on the hapless man, saying, ''I will speak to the commissioner about you.''

If Mr Obeid was in any doubt about the seriousness of the allegations levelled against him, Geoffrey Watson, SC, counsel assisting the inquiry, soon delivered the devastating news.

Within a short time of Mr Obeid's taking the stand, Mr Watson said: ''I'm going to submit that you, you Mr Obeid, you engaged in a criminal conspiracy. 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 Watson was referring to allegations that Mr Obeid, a former resources minister, and his five sons, collectively known as ''the boys'', used highly confidential information about a prospective coal licence allegedly provided to them by resources minister Ian Macdonald. The information enabled the Obeid family to make $60 million with the prospect of another $100 million.

But a combative Mr Obeid refused to take a backwards step. ''Mr Watson, I will not be intimidated by you!'' he boomed. He denied that his family had done anything wrong and said he was proud of his son's good business sense. He also said ''every Australian'' was entitled to maximise the economic benefit to their family.

Things only went downhill for Mr Obeid, 69, after the lunch break. ''Look out, Mr Obeid, I am warning you,'' said the commissioner, David Ipp, in exasperation. ''Answer the question - otherwise you will be held guilty of contempt. You persist in not answering the question deliberately, and interrupting.''

Mr Watson was trying to discredit Mr Obeid's view that he and his sons had bought more properties in the Bylong Valley, not because they had received inside information from Mr Macdonald about a forthcoming tender, but because they were worried about Anglo American building a mine next door.

The inquiry has heard that the Obeids, using the three crucial properties they and their associated acquired in the valley, were able to negotiate a 25 per cent stake in the winning coal company, in return for access to their properties.

Mr Obeid's sons also negotiated the sale of the properties for four times their value. Mr Obeid maintained that the purchase of the properties was a defensive move because of the possibility of a mine being next door.

''If you've got one property which you think is bad because it's next door to a mine, you wouldn't be buying two more properties next door to the same mine would you?'' Mr Watson asked.

Mr Obeid said that due to his busy political career for the past 25 years his five sons had run the family business with little input from him and that he didn't really know much about the coal deals.

''You've been at pains to try and put a distance between you and the boys on these transactions … tried to save your own skin at the expense of them?'' said Mr Watson. ''Absolutely rubbish,'' Mr Obeid replied heatedly.

As the day wore on, Mr Obeid was asked if he had ever spoken about problems with the coal deal with Greg Jones, a fellow investor in the lucrative deal and a close friend of Mr Macdonald.

Before he knew it, there was Mr Jones's jocular voice on an intercepted telephone call taped in the very week in May 2011 that Mr Obeid was about to resign from Parliament.

Calling Mr Obeid ''my son'', Mr Jones and Mr Obeid talked about the problems with the way Mr Obeid's sons were handling the coal deal.

Mr Obeid's evidence will continue on Tuesday.

This story Angry Obeid under fire first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.