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Obeid friend admits lying over farm deal

Date

Linton Besser, Kate McClymont

A LAMBORGHINI-driving businessman, Justin Kennedy Lewis, was told by Eddie Obeid's sons to buy a farm in the Bylong Valley in 2008 because he would be able to resell it to a mining company at four times what he paid, the corruption inquiry has been told.

In November that year, Mr Lewis executed contracts to buy the $3.5 million Coggan Creek farm which compelled him to pass 30 per cent of whatever profit he made, when he sold it, back to the Obeid family.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating the Obeid family's purchase of a neighbouring farm in 2007 and allegations a subsequent mining tender that produced millions of dollars of profits for the family was engineered by Eddie Obeid and former minister Ian Macdonald.

Under investigation ... Eddie Obeid and family.

Under investigation ... Eddie Obeid and family.

Mr Lewis claimed part of his motivation in buying the property was to run it as a farm. But under questioning from counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, he said he had not bought a single cow, nor any feed, nor any farming equipment.

Of farming in general, Mr Lewis said: ''To my way of thinking, how hard could it be?''

He prompted laughter when he was asked about the kind of cattle he wanted to run on his property. The kind that ''walk around and eat grass'', he said.

In 2010 he responded to questions from the Herald journalist Anne Davies in an email, and claimed that at the time he bought Coggan Creek he didn't know there was coal in the area.

''What you said to Ms Davies was untrue,'' Mr Watson said.

''Correct. That's bullshit,'' Mr Lewis said.

''There's a few truths in there, and a couple of lies as well.''

Not only was he aware there was coal in the area, the agreements he had signed in November 2008 talked expressly of the profits that would be triggered if a mining company won a bid for a licence over the area.

These deeds meant Mr Lewis expected to split a $10 million profit with the Obeids. When asked why he had agreed to give the Obeids 30 per cent of the profit, he replied: ''If they made me a whole bunch of money, I'd be happy to give them an earn.''

The deed said this cut was for intelligence, information and documents.

When Mr Lewis received Davies's questions, he discussed with the Obeid sons how to reply, he told the inquiry, taking the email straight to the Obeids' business headquarters at Birkenhead Point.

''My vote was to not even reply,'' Mr Lewis said. But the Obeids overruled him, instructing Mr Lewis to lie to the journalist, he said.

Davies said when she rang Eddie Obeid in 2010 while researching her article, he said if he had known there was going to be an exploration licence over his property in Bylong, ''I wouldn't have bought it''.

His son Moses told Davies the family was intending to ''fight off'' the potential coalminers.

The corruption commission is examining the circumstances under which the Obeid family used inside information from a government coal licence tender to enrich themselves by up to $100 million.

Do you know more? investigations@smh.com.au

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