Obeid stunned his cabinet colleagues in 2002 when he commented on a developing scandal with: ‘Well, someone has got to get paid.’ Photo: Rick Stevens D-Day: Obeid arriving at the Supreme Court to be sentenced. Photo: Daniel Munoz
Obeid ran the powerful Terrigals group within the ALP’s right faction, with fellow ex-minister Joe Tripodi (left). Photo: Brendan Esposito
In 2008, Obeid was found guilty in Ryde Local Court of using a hand-held mobile phone when driving in a school zone and was fined $350. Photo: Jon Reid
Before entering parliament, Obeid ran a Media Publishing Group, which published El Telegraph. Photo: Ross Willis
Edward and Judy Obeid at home with their family of nine in November 1982. Photo: Phillip Lock
There was a deathly silence around the cabinet room. The seven words just uttered by the usually silent fisheries minister Eddie Obeid had shocked his colleagues to the core.
“Well, someone has got to get paid,” said Obeid, with a shrug of his shoulders. It was 2002 and Obeid couldn’t understand what he saw as the overreaction by his fellow ministers about a developing scandal.
The Labor deputy mayor of Rockdale had been demanding bribes from developers in return for favourable planning decisions. The Independent Commission Against Corruption had announced an investigation and the story was front page news.
Obeid’s throwaway line marked all too clearly his morally bankrupt world. For him, bribery and corruption were essential tools to getting ahead and making a buck.
The Labor Party was later to pay an enormous price for failing to check Obeid as he single-mindedly pursued his dishonest ways in order to enrich himself and his family.
Party officials were blinded by his ability to fill the party’s coffers with the substantial donations he was able to garner largely from business associates who wanted access to power.
The money, in turn, delivered him untrammelled clout within the party.
He was instrumental in establishing the powerful Terrigals group — named after the location of his Central Coast beach house — which in turn controlled the dominant Right faction within the Labor caucus.
It was a power he later ruthlessly deployed to tear down two Labor premiers, Nathan Rees and Morris Iemma, when they attempted to curtail his power.
A few months after he shocked his cabinet colleagues, Obeid used parliament to rail against those embroiled in the Rockdale council scandal that was playing itself out at ICAC.
In hindsight, his hypocrisy was breathtaking.
“Unfortunately there are still some unscrupulous individuals who are so driven by greed that they are willing to chance the severe anti-corruption and criminal conduct sanctions that are currently in place in order to obtain financial benefit or some other benefit or favour for themselves.”
Obeid went on to say how “critically important” it was that “appropriate measures are in place so that where corruption or other criminal behaviour does exist, it will be rooted out and the people involved punished”.
It is just a pity that the signposts to Obeid’s own corruption were ignored by his party from the very first days of his parliamentary career.
In the fortnight before he officially slid onto the red bench seats of the NSW Upper House, Obeid pulled off an astonishing deal.
On September 5, 1991, his company bought a property in Clovelly for $875,000. By the next day he had on-sold it to the NSW Housing Department for $1.1 million. He was also awarded a contract by the Housing Department to build units on the site.
Obeid was to repeat this remarkably successful pattern with the Housing Department.
Never once did he disclose that as a member of parliament he was selling land to a government department and that he was also scoring multi-million dollar building contracts for the same sites.
Obeid’s wheeling and dealing continued unchecked throughout his parliamentary career. As patriarch of the family, Obeid oversaw the millions and millions of dollars that flowed to his family through corrupt real estate deals, inside knowledge on tendering processes and the successful lobbying of his colleagues for outcomes that would bolster the Obeid empire.
Yet for the two decades that Obeid was a member of the Legislative Council, the only revenue he declared was his parliamentary income.
In February 1993 Obeid was earning $275,000 — triple that of a backbencher’s salary. In the list of assets and liabilities that Obeid provided to the bank to obtain refinancing, there was a most intriguing entry.
The MP was receiving $50,000 a year to be a “consultant” to a small printing company, Offset Alpine, which would be mysteriously destroyed by fire later that year.
In 1992, when Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press was offloading assets, Obeid was offered the firm’s printing plant, Offset Alpine. Obeid’s good friend, the then federal Labor minister Graham Richardson, put Obeid in touch with his stockbroker, Rene Rivkin, who funded the project. At the time of the fire, Christmas Eve 1993, Obeid’s son Paul was a director of the company.
The fire brought with it an unintended bonanza in the shape of a recently negotiated insurance policy for $53.2 million. News of the insurance windfall sent the share price soaring. Not a bad earn for a business that had been purchased two years earlier for $15 million.
As was their wont the Obeids hadn’t yet paid Rivkin for their 25 per cent share of the company but, behind the scenes, Obeid was insisting on sharing in the upside.
In December 1994, a few months after the final insurance payout was made, his friend Richardson transferred $1 million from his Swiss account to an account in Beirut, Lebanon.
The bank account just happened to be owned by Dennis Lattouf, a close associate of the Obeid family.
Years later, the Offset Alpine scandal came back to haunt Rivkin and Richardson. In 2003 The Australian Financial Review revealed that Rivkin had set up a Swiss bank account to hide Richardson’s secret shareholding in Offset Alpine.
When the names of the various players in the Offset Alpine saga were raised in the NSW parliament in 2012, then police minister Mike Gallacher quipped: “I hear people saying that a name is missing from that list: Where there is smoke, there is Eddie.”
As it turned out there was a lot of smoke swirling around Obeid. As a string of ICAC inquiries were to reveal, the corrupt activities of Eddie Obeid were, as council assisting Geoffrey Watson, SC, noted “on a scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corps”.
– with Sean Nicholls
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