Wealth estimated at $665 million ... Travers Duncan. Photo: Michele Mossop
It must have seemed like an eternity for Travers Duncan as the 80-year-old sat in the witness box at the state's most sensational corruption inquiry waiting for an intercepted telephone call to be played.
Duncan, one of the nation's wealthiest men, was estimated by BRW's Rich List to be worth a mere $665 million. But here he was being grilled remorselessly over his involvement in Cascade Coal, which won a mining exploration licence which has engulfed the Labor Party and has now spilled over into the very richest of our nouveau riche.
The tall, forceful Duncan hasn't had so much bad press since the Australian Federal Police and the Corporate Affairs Commission raided the offices of his company White Constructions in 1988. Duncan and several other White directors faced the possibility of five years' jail when they were charged under the Companies Act with making untrue statements and non-disclosures in a prospectus.
Made $500 million ... Brian Flannery. Photo: Glenn Hunt
The matter was ultimately dismissed in 1994 by Federal Court Justice Alan Neaves, who said the evidence was ''not capable of satisfying a jury beyond reasonable doubt''.
This time, it is another of Duncan's ''White'' companies - White Energy - that has landed him before a major corruption inquiry.
When counsel assisting the Independent Commission Against Corruption Geoffrey Watson, SC, claimed in his opening address last month that the allegedly corrupt granting of coal exploration licences by then minister Ian Macdonald back in 2009 had the potential to make ''rich men even richer'' he was not exaggerating.
Investor ... John McGuigan. Photo: Paul Miller
Take those magnificent seven who invested in a private miner Cascade Coal. In August 2008, just as the family and associates of the controversial Labor MP Eddie Obeid were snapping up properties around the Bylong area, near Mudgee, an events company reinvented itself as a coalminer to be called Cascade Coal.
Cascade's investors included Duncan and his partner Brian Flannery who made $500 million each when they flicked their coalminer Felix Resources to China's Yanzhou Coal for $3.54 billion in 2009.
Then there was John Kinghorn, whose reputation took a hit after he floated RAMS Home Loans only days before the global financial crisis hit. He pocketed more than $650 million but investors were wiped out.
Good timing ... John Kinghorn. Photo: Louie Douvis
Also investing in Cascade were former Baker & McKenzie law partners John McGuigan and John Atkinson, who have also made their fortunes in the resources industry.
Richard ''Digger'' Poole, who arrived from Perth several years ago to hang out his shingle as a boutique investment bank, Arthur Phillip, was also an investor. He and his former flight attendant wife, Amanda, had all the trappings of the newly wealthy - flashy cars, designer rags and the mandatory overseas holidays. Cascade's office was at Arthur Phillip.
In 2010, White Energy offered to pay $500 million for the small private company Cascade Coal, which had picked up the Mount Penny exploration from the NSW government for $1 million.
Resources wealth ... John Atkinson. Photo: Jim Rice
Cascade's successful bid for the exploration licence at Mount Penny may have gone unnoticed but for two things.
The first was the extraordinary coincidence that Eddie Obeid's family and friends had all secured key properties in the same area proposed for an open-cut mine.
The other crucial development was the November 2010 announcement to the stock exchange that White Energy was offering an astonishing $500 million for Cascade, whose only asset was the Mount Penny licence.
Close to Macdonald ... Greg Jones.
The problem was, several of the White Energy directors - including Duncan, Kinghorn, Flannery, Atkinson and McGuigan - just happened to own Cascade and stood to make a handsome $50 million each if White's shareholders approved the deal.
But throwing a spanner in the works was the pesky press, who began asking about the proposed sale and raising nasty questions as to whether the Obeid family was in on the Cascade deal.
Also raising eyebrows was the fact some of the owners of Cascade had hidden their identity by owning Cascade shares through the intriguingly named Lost Ark Nominees. Even more interesting was the timing of Lost Ark's bullish $28 million investment in Cascade - the day before White's announcement to the stock exchange that it was planning to buy the company for $500 million.
Boutique bank ... Richard Poole. Photo: Michel O'Sullivan
Kinghorn, of RAMS Home Loans, Allco and Krispy Kreme fame, held about 14 per cent of Cascade through a private company but he also held another 12.5 per cent on behalf of someone else.
That someone else turned out to be Greg Jones, one of the closest friends of the man in charge of the coal tender - Macdonald. Jones had known ''Macca'' since the early 1980s, when the pair were caught rorting expenses while employed in the office of then Labor minister Frank Walker.
Jones, who was also a long-time business associate of Kinghorn and McGuigan, had been telling his eastern suburbs mates, including property developer Denis O'Neil and luxury car dealer Neville ''Croaky'' Crichton, that he was on to a ''sure thing'' in the way of a coal deal. ''It was going to be a 'multi-bagger','' he told friends.
In investment circles, ''multi-bagger'' is used to describe an investment that is expected to return at least several times a much as the original investment.
This week, the identities behind the Lost Ark investors were revealed. Among the cast of veritable movers and shakers in the business community were Jones's drinking buddies Crichton and O'Neil.
The Lost Ark syndicate was brought together by Peter Gray and Brent Potts, the former stockbroking partner of the late disgraced Rene Rivkin.
It included Potts's great mate from Monaco, Bobby ''Bothways'' Pittorino, along with Peter ''Talky'' Newton, well-known corporate raider Sir Ron Brierley, Travers Duncan's children Andromeda and Campbell, stockbrokers Richard Granger and Rex Adams, who now work alongside Potts and Gray at Blue Ocean Equities.
Other investors were Wayne Seabrook and Simon Keyser from boutique stockbroking firm Ironstone Capital, and Anthony Levi who works with Poole at Arthur Phillip.
At the same time they were investing, analysts from Potts's stockbroking firm Southern Equities were spruiking the merits of the White Energy and Cascade purchase.
It now transpires that the $28 million the Lost Ark syndicate invested in Cascade, was channelled by Cascade director Poole - via a solicitor's trust fund - into the family coffers of the Obeids.
There is no evidence any of the Lost Ark people were aware their money was going to the Obeid family.
The Cascade investment has turned out to be a dud for everyone except ''the boys''. This was the nickname for Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid's five sons - Damien, Paul, Gerard, Moses and Eddie jnr.
The inquiry has heard that ''the boys'' orchestrated a 25 per cent stake in Cascade Coal in return for agreeing to let Cascade deal with their ''farm'' consortium.
Having the land owners on board is an attractive proposition to mining companies in that their access to the land is not being blocked by unhappy farmers.
But by late 2010, the Obeid name had become synonymous with controversy, the commission has heard, and therefore, the good people at Cascade had to go to great pains to hide the Obeids' payout.
''Jimmy, what are you thinking, you can't say this,'' Poole said in an email to his underling James McGuigan in August 2009.
James McGuigan is the son of John McGuigan. Since July 2012, James McGuigan has been Cascade Coal's sole employee but in 2008, he was working on the Cascade deal at Poole's firm Arthur Phillip.
''Jimmy'' had raised the ire of his boss by drafting an agreement between Cascade Coal and Buffalo Resources, which was a company associated with the Obeids.
In his evidence this week, McGuigan conceded that ''By that point in time [August 2009] I understood they [the Obeids] were very controversial people, yes.''
''So it would be damaging to put them in?'' he was asked by Watson. ''Ah, yes,'' McGuigan replied hesitatingly.
''Jimmy, this needs more work. Remember, this document could easily end up in court one day so it needs to be accurate,'' Mr Poole continued in his email.
''Quite prescient of Mr Poole?'' Mr Watson said sardonically. ''You could say that,'' McGuigan replied.
McGuigan had a torrid time in the witness box. It transpired he had told a private ICAC hearing in July he knew the Obeids were involved with Cascade. But in his evidence this week, McGuigan said he was flustered during the hearing and had made a mistake.
''I suggest to you that an inference could be drawn that you've changed your evidence because suddenly you realise it was prejudicial to you?'' Commissioner David Ipp suggested.
Following James McGuigan into the box was his dad's business partner Duncan.
Duncan, who is chairman of White Energy, and one of the investors in Cascade, was in an ebullient mood when he settled into the witness box just before 3pm on Thursday.
Within an hour, his life had been turned upside down.