NSW government dragged into Obeid scandal

NSW government dragged into Obeid scandal


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Eddie Obeid at a previous ICAC inquiry.

Eddie Obeid at a previous ICAC inquiry.

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THE O'Farrell government has been dragged into the ICAC scandal surrounding the family of former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

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THE O'Farrell government has been dragged into the scandal surrounding the family of former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, with two major corruption inquiries featuring three of its MPs starting in the next two months.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has announced it will hold a public inquiry, starting on March 17, into allegations of corrupt conduct by public officials and "persons with an interest" in the Obeid-linked company Australian Water Holdings.

A second inquiry will be held from April 28 into allegations that former energy minister Chris Hartcher, The Entrance MP Chris Spence and Wyong MP Darren Webber "corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments".

Liberal identity Nick Di Girolamo has resigned as a director of the State Water Corporation this afternoon, following the announcement he was embroiled in the inquiry.

Mr Di Girolamo – a prominent Liberal Party figure known for his fund-raising prowess – was appointed to a $100,000 position on the board of the state-owned corporation by the NSW government in 2012.

On Tuesday, ICAC announced a public inquiry into allegations of corrupt conduct involving "public officials and persons with an interest in Australian Water Holdings".

The ICAC said it was alleged that in November 2012, Mr Di Girolamo, as chief executive of Australian Water Holdings, and Eddie Obeid jnr sought to mislead the commission over whether Mr Obeid snr had misused his position as an MP to benefit the company.

It will also examine allegations that Australian Water Holdings, through Mr Di Girolamo, made regular payments to a company, Eightbyfive, owned by Tim Koelma, an adviser to then energy and resources minister Chris Hartcher.

The ICAC said it was alleged that the payments were made "purportedly for the provision of media, public relations and other services and advice, in return for which Mr Hartcher favoured the interests of AWH".

Last year, Treasurer Mike Baird was questioned during budget estimates hearings about the appointment of Mr Di Girolamo to the State Water Corporation board.

Fairfax Media had revealed election funding records showed Australian Water Holdings donated $10,000 to Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson in October 2010, while she was opposition water spokeswoman.

Mr Di Girolamo was appointed to the board of State Water in July 2012 at which time Ms Hodgkinson was water minister with responsibility for the corporation.

The Australian Electoral Commission later acknowledged the donation was to the Nationals, and not to Ms Hodgkinson personally.

Mr Baird, who was a shareholding minister for State Water Corporation, told the estimates hearing that all board appointments were made on merit and approved by cabinet.

On Tuesday, Mr Baird issued a statement revealing Mr Di Girolamo had resigned as a director of State Water.

"Mr Di Girolamo has today resigned from the State Water board," he said. “We thank Mr Di Girolamo for his service.”

On paper, Mr Di Girolamo appears to have divested himself of shares of Australian Water Holdings and in related company Australian Water Queensland.

He resigned from the board of Australian Water Holdings in April last year and from associated companies in October.

ICAC says the first inquiry, codenamed Operation Credo, will look at whether, between 2004 and 2012, interests in Australian Water Holdings, its predecessors and subsidiaries benefited by inflating charges to state-owned Sydney Water corporation.

It will also examine allegations that "public officials and others" were involved in falsifying a cabinet minute relating to a public-private partnership proposal by Australian Water Holdings to mislead a budget committee of cabinet.

Mr Obeid and his fellow former Labor ministers Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly are alleged to have "misused their positions as members of Parliament" to try and influence public officials over the proposal for the public-private partnership.

As well, the inquiry will consider allegations that in November 2012 Mr di Girolamo and Eddie Obeid jnr tried to mislead ICAC's investigation into whether Mr Obied snr tried to use his position as an MP to influence public officials over the deal.

The second inquiry, codenamed Operation Spicer, will look at whether between April 2009 and April 2012 Mr Harcher, Mr Webber and Mr Spence, along with two former staff of Mr Hartcher – Tim Koelma and Ray Carter – corruptly solicited payments in return for political favours.

It will also examine whether between December 2010 and November 2011 the MPs and Mr Carter solicited banned political donations.

Finally, the inquiry will consider allegations that Australian Water Holdings, through Mr di Girolamo, its chief executive, made "regular payments" to Eightbyfive, a company owned by Mr Koelma - a former policy adviser to Mr Hartcher - in return for Mr Hartcher favouring Australian Water Holdings interests.

Mr Hartcher suddently resigned from the cabinet in December after ICAC raided his office.

The story NSW government dragged into Obeid scandal first appeared on Farm Online.

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