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Monthly Archives: September 2019

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Son’s defence put Fairfax on the money trail

When Eddie Obeid’s middle son, Moses, told the NSW Court of Appeal last year that he did not have the money to pay a $12 million debt his company owed the City of Sydney council, he could not have realised the profound repercussions that statement was to have.

The court heard that, far from being broke, Moses Obeid was a miracle of financial management. Despite having a taxable income of $100,000 a year – and his wife $80,000 – the pair lived a sumptuous lifestyle, drove his and hers Land Rovers, employed a maid, met their annual mortgage payments of $210,000 on a $4.5 million Vaucluse mansion and still had $800,000 a year left over for living expenses.

Justice Peter Young said he could have ”very little confidence” in the evidence of Moses Obeid and his brother Paul and noted the Obeids appeared to exemplify the doctrine: ”How to live well on nothing a year” from the classic novel Vanity Fair.

The Obeids produced 10 lever-arch folders of figures, including reports from accountants, to prove Moses Obeid did not have any assets or the means to pay $12 million for breaching a licensing agreement over the manufacture of street poles.

But Alan Sullivan, QC, for the City of Sydney, identified a series of trusts controlled by the family through which millions of dollars had flowed for the benefit of the Obeids.

When Fairfax sought access to the financial records tendered by the Obeids, their team of lawyers objected – unsuccessfully.

These documents, showing millions flowing through a series of family trusts, enabled Fairfax Media to shine a light on the Obeids’ dealings, including their secret ownership of cafes at Circular Quay and their mining deals.

On paper, the Arc Cafe, Quay Eatery and Sorrentino, which are located in blue-ribbon positions on or next to the bustling ferry wharves at the Quay, were run by a $1 company called Circular Quay Restaurants Pty Ltd.

The sole director was John Abood, Mr Obeid’s brother-in-law. In 2004, Fairfax Media tried to confirm the long-rumoured involvement of the Obeid family in the restaurants.

At the time, Mr Abood denied he was a front for Eddie Obeid, saying: ”Yes, I am his [Obeid’s] brother-in-law, but no way he is involved. I have been here for three years and he has never had anything to do with this business.”

But in the witness box at the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday, Mr Abood admitted he was effectively a front for his relatives, with the Obeids secretly owning 90 per cent of the company using a series of discretionary trusts.

In Moses Obeid’s sworn statement tendered in the Court of Appeal proceedings, he had previously applied for a bank loan. To prove he could repay it, he listed among his $11.3 million assets a $700,000 share of ”Circular Quay Restaurants”.

In trying to avoid paying the later debt to the council, Moses Obeid inadvertently revealed the family’s long-held secret – the use of trusts to hide a myriad of business interests.

Using the information in the court documents, a subsequent Fairfax Media investigation unmasked the Obeids’ secret interests in the now famous Mount Penny coal licence scandal as well as in the Circular Quay cafes.

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Light rail extension to Dulwich Hill to hit commuters in pocket

Tram services to Dulwich Hill on Sydney’s light rail line are being planned to start on February 1, and service frequencies are expected to increase later next year.

But commuters using the extension of the light rail line to Dulwich Hill are likely to have to pay more to catch the tram all the way to Central, according to contract details between the state government and the private operator of the line.

In July, the state government signed a $45 million contract with Transdev to run Sydney’s existing tram line between Central and Lilyfield and its extension to Dulwich Hill until the middle of 2015.

Services on that line are currently suspended between Central and the Star casino, after two trams derailed this month in incidents that neither the government nor the operator have explained.

But documents attached to Transdev’s contract show plans, at least, for an improvement in services. In 458 pages, they also include Transport for NSW specifications on fares and tickets. The documents show Transdev predicts it will take 36 minutes to travel from Dulwich Hill to Central on the line but Transport for NSW and Transdev say that is only a preliminary estimate.

In contrast, it takes about half that time to travel by train from Dulwich Hill train station, which is adjacent to the light rail terminus, to Central. The contract also shows the government plans to phase out all paper tickets when the Opal public transport smart card is bedded in.

Transport for NSW is planning to install Opal technology on all trams, buses, train and ferries by the end of next year. Eventually, the contract with Transdev says, electronic ticketing will be used ”to the exclusion of all other ticketing”.

The current fare structure for the light rail line is broken into two zones – charging people $3.50 if they travel in one zone, or $4.50 if they travel in two. The contract documents show the government had been planning to introduce a third zone for the extension to Dulwich Hill. But they also say that concession fares would finally be introduced on the light rail, which currently does not offer them.

Transport for NSW would not confirm the details included in the contract. A spokesman said the start date for the extension to Dulwich Hill would be announced in coming months, as would the government’s policy on fares and how frequently trams would run.

When the extension opens in February, Transdev is expecting to run a tram every 10 minutes in peak periods, as it does now. But from July next year it plans to run a tram every 7.5 minutes.

Transport for NSW said: ”The contract has the flexibility to increase the service frequency of light rail after the opening of the Inner West Extension. We are working with Transdev to carry out detailed simulation modelling to confirm the exact journey time under various scenarios.”

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Islamic bookshop shuts, blaming extremism ‘lies’

Closed: Al Risalah Islamic Bookstore in Bankstown. Photo: Wolter PeetersAfter being accused of being an extremist and secretive organisation, the Al Risalah Islamic Bookstore in Bankstown, which has found itself at the centre of a media storm in the past year, has shut down.

The closure of the business has been blamed on a vendetta against the bookshop by some community members and alleged ”defamatory” statements made in the media about the store and its patrons.

Lawyer Zali Burrows, acting on behalf of the manager of the bookstore, Wisam Haddad, and three others, has filed a defamation action against Nationwide News, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph, over its coverage of the Muslim riots in the city last year.

”Sex used to sell; these days it’s Muslims and terrorists,” she said. ”My clients are taking a stand against irresponsible media that promote religious intolerance and discrimination that often leaves a carnage of reputations in its wake.”

The bookshop was also in the news earlier this year after Today Tonight filmed an altercation on the pavement outside.

Mr Haddad said the bookstore had closed because of a major loss of sales and negativity about its operations.

He said the attention had ”caused an unjust stench about our store and its patrons, that we believe was perpetuated by both local and international media, which ran false statements and accusations that we are an extremist secretive organisation … instigating hate crimes against other groups of the community”.

”All [these] defamatory lies [were] drilled into the hearts and minds of the public as well as most of our customers who [were] from both Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds, who never returned to the shop after the bad publicity we received,” he said.

A women’s clothing shop will open in its place, however the community centre behind the store will remain open to the public.

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Man charged over robbing banks with sledgehammer

A man has been charged over the daring daylight robbery of two Sydney banks with a sledgehammer.

William Caldwell has been charged over his alleged involvement in the robbery of the Westpac bank in Kent Street in Sydney’s central business district on September 13 and the Bendigo Bank branch at Pyrmont on October 11.

Police allege he was also involved in the robbery of the Sydney Credit Union at Leichhardt on October 17, when thieves smashed their way into the building to access a safe and stole money.

The 30-year-old has also been charged with the robbery of a convenience store in Sydney’s CBD on September 10.

Caldwell was arrested at Marrickville on Monday morning after investigations by Strike Force Threshing, which was established to investigate five robberies – at least four of which involved the use of a sledgehammer.

They included the robbery of the Westpac bank in Sydney’s CBD at 11.15am on a Friday.

It is alleged that during the robbery a stolen Porsche Cayenne was driven into the back of the bank and two masked men jumped out.

Witnesses said that the pair were armed with sledgehammers and ran into the bank, where they confronted staff and made off with cash.

Minutes later, a man ran from the building, carrying bags, and jumped into a stolen blue Subaru WRX, where a driver was waiting. The entire robbery took less than five minutes.

After the incident at the bank in Pyrmont a month later, witnesses again described two men with a sledgehammer who fled with cash in a blue Subaru WRX.

On Monday, Caldwell was charged with four counts of robbery while armed with a dangerous weapon in relation to the robberies at Pyrmont, Leichhardt and the Sydney CBD convenience store.

Caldwell is also facing six counts of aggravated breaking, entering and stealing in relation to the Kent Street incident, and incidents at a number of other inner Sydney businesses, as well as 12 counts of driving a conveyance and two counts of malicious damage.

He is the second person to be charged by Strike Force Threshing after the arrest of a 20-year-old man in Pyrmont last week in relation to the Sydney Credit Union robbery in Leichhardt.

Caldwell appeared briefly before Newtown Local Court on Monday afternoon, where a bail application was denied.

The matter will return to court on December 12.

Detectives are continuing to investigate the five robberies.

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‘Corrupt’ label for witness caught in parliament row

Barely a fortnight ago, former senior state public servant Steve Dunn was given a frank character assessment in the State Parliament.

The occasion was a debate on a bill to abolish the controversial Game Council of NSW following a damaging review of the taxpayer-funded body by Mr Dunn in his capacity as a private consultant.

As the Shooters and Fishers Party MP Robert Brown eviscerated Mr Dunn and wondered how he could have reached his conclusions, fellow Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak, enraged by the Dunn report, interjected: ”Because he’s corrupt, that’s why!”

Little did they know Mr Dunn would be named on Monday as a witness in the latest Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry into former Labor minister Eddie Obeid.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ian Temby, QC, said Mr Dunn – a former director of water licensing – will be quizzed about his role in the granting of a valuable water allocation over the Obeids’ Cherrydale Park property in the Bylong Valley.

He will also feature in part of the inquiry dealing with interests Mr Obeid’s family held in commercial leases at Circular Quay, as the former chief executive of Maritime NSW.

Mr Temby said the inquiry would examine whether Mr Dunn and another former senior public servant, Mark Duffy, engaged in ”official misconduct” by using their positions to benefit the Obeids.

Mr Dunn left the public service in October last year and started IC Independent Consulting, which was awarded the contract to review the Game Council by the O’Farrell government.

On Monday Mr Brown said the government vetoed the engagement of a consultant preferred by the Shooters and Fishers Party in favour of Mr Dunn. ”They’re the ones that picked him,” Mr Brown said. ”A bit embarrassing, hey?”

According to the company’s website, IC Independent Consulting is ”prequalified” under the state government’s scheme for preferred tenderers.

It says its ”partners and associates” have done or are bidding for work from agencies including Transport NSW, Roads and Maritime Services, Department of Primary Industries, Police Marine Area Command and the Marine Parks Authority.

An expert fly fisherman, Mr Dunn also offers lessons in the Snowy Mountains and was director-general of Fisheries while Mr Obeid was minister. Contacted on Monday, Mr Dunn declined to comment.

Mr Duffy, the other former senior public servant highlighted by Mr Temby, was director-general of the NSW Department of Water and Energy in 2008 when the Obeids were granted the generous water licence at Cherrydale Park. He became deputy director-general of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, but left early this year following a restructure.

Mr Duffy is regarded as close to former minister Michael Costa, who will also be called as a witness in the Circular Quay leases portion of the ICAC inquiry. He was best man at Mr Costa’s wedding and previously worked alongside him at the NSW Labor Council.

In 1989 Mr Duffy was sacked as Labor Council industrial officer for leaking internal documents he co-wrote with Mr Costa to an executive at transport giant Linfox. He later worked as chief of staff to former NSW treasurer Michael Egan.

Mr Dunn and Mr Duffy featured regularly in Mr Obeid’s diaries, tendered to a previous ICAC inquiry, as having frequent meetings with the former Labor powerbroker between 2007 and 2009.

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