ACCC takes action against Obeid family, alleging cartel conduct over Bylong Valley coal licences

Photo: Getty/ Ian Waldie

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has entered the long-running investigation into mining exploration licences involving the family of disgraced former ALP powerbroker Eddie Obeid, in the Bylong Valley in the New South Wales Hunter region.

The competition watchdog has been investigating the issue for several months in the wake of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) 2013 inquiry, which found that former minister Ian Macdonald, Eddie Obeid Sr, Moses Obeid, Travers Duncan, John McGuigan, John Atkinson, John Kinghorn and Richard Poole engaged in corrupt conduct in relation to their actions involving the Mount Penny tenement.

Earlier this month, NSW premier Mike Baird introduced new laws to ensure that the ICAC findings against some now named in the ACCC action would stand, just as they looked set to be overturned.

The ACCC has named six companies and five individuals in the Federal Court action, which alleges bid rigging occurred over the Mount Penny coal exploration licence tender process.

Those named in the action are: Cascade Coal Pty Ltd, and an associated company, Coal & Minerals Group (CMG), plus Cascade director John McGuigan; Richard Poole, a former Cascade director; company representative James McGuigan; and Moses and Paul Obeid and several companies associated with them: Loyal Coal, Locaway, Mincorp Investments, formerly Voope; and Southeast Investment Group.

The ACCC alleges the conduct relates to the 2009 tender by the then-Department of Primary Industries for exploration licences over the Mount Penny and Glendon Brook coal tenements.

The competition watchdog alleges that in early June 2009, Cascade entered into an understanding with Loyal and its affiliated companies that saw Loyal withdraw from the tender process and refrain from pursuing competing bids for Mount Penny and Glendon Brook, in return for a 25% interest in the mining venture, as well as buying the properties linked to Paul and Moses Obeid for four times the land value.

Loyal subsequently withdrew its bid, and Cascade won both tenders.

The ACCC also alleges that in 2010, Buffalo transferred ownership of the 25% interest to Southeast Investments, which later sold the interest back to CMG, an entity controlled by Richard Poole. As a result of the sale, Southeast Investments accepted benefits valued by the parties at $60 million, including approximately $30 million in cash payments, which was distributed to beneficiaries of the Obeid Family Trust No. 2, including Paul and Moses Obeid and their immediate families.

“This case involves serious allegations of cartel conduct,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said. “There is also a real public interest in ensuring that competitive public tender processes are not undermined by bid rigging or other cartel conduct.”

The ACCC is seeking fines and wants the men disqualified from managing corporations.

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