The chair of a mining company caught up in allegedly dodgy practices over NSW mining leases demanded his firm sever links with the Obeid family, saying they weren’t the type of people the company should do business with.
White Energy boss Travers Duncan was challenged at a Sydney corruption hearing about what he knew of the involvement of former Labor MP Eddie Obeid and his family in the Mt Penny exploration licence, in the central NSW Bylong Valley.
The Obeids had a 25 per cent stake in Cascade Coal, the winning tenderer for the Mt Penny tenement after an allegedly rigged tender process overseen by former Resources Minister Ian Macdonald.
At an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearing on Friday, Mr Duncan said he found out about the Obeids’ involvement in the Cascade mining joint venture in 2010 - a year after the successful tender.
The information had been given to him during a ‘‘heated series of discussions’’ with his fellow Cascade shareholders John McGuigan, John Atkinson and Richard Poole, he said.
At the time White Energy was making a $500 million bid for Cascade, which was eventually undone by bad publicity and the election of a new state government in 2011, the ICAC has heard.
ICAC Commissioner David Ipp asked Mr Duncan - who was set to reap $60 million from the sale of Cascade - what had ‘‘generated the heat’’.
‘‘I felt upset about the matter and I demanded that it get fixed,’’ Mr Duncan said. ‘‘I didn’t believe that they were parties we ought to be involved in, if we’re going to try and develop this as a property, and as a major mine and we go out and try and borrow money from the banks, that their reputation with the bankers would make it very difficult for us.’’
‘‘Did you suggest how it should be fixed?’’ Commissioner Ipp asked. ‘‘I said we have got to get them out of this place,’’ Mr Duncan replied.The ICAC has heard that the Obeids’ stake in Cascade Coal was hidden through a campaign of ‘‘sanitisation’’ by the company, involving a series of transactions.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson SC asked what Mr Duncan felt was wrong with the Obeids’ reputation.
‘‘They always had bad publicity,’’ he said. ‘‘Even if their name had non-specific allegations against them, it was a name I didn’t like and I didn’t want to do business with them.’’