Former NSW Labor government minister Eddie Obeid will be jailed for five years with a non-parole period of three years.
Justice Robert Beech-Jones spent 90 minutes summarising the case and his sentence, saying that he took Obeid’s health and age into account in level of sentence, but could not overlook the serious breach of public trust by an elected official.
“The more senior the public official, the greater the level of public trust,” he said.
Obeid’s conduct was” a very serious example of the offence”, Justice Beech-Jones concluded.
“If Mr Obeid had not willfully abused his position as a parliamentarian, then his life and career would be a testament to the values of hard work, family and public service. Instead, his time in public life has produced a very different legacy,” he said.
He said the jury were convinced Obeid was “solely motivated” to benefit a family company and himself and his family and it was “inconceivable he would not have known” as a politician that he could not use position for his own benefit.
Justice Beech-Jones said there was “exquisite timing” to a phone call by Obeid to a senior bureaucrat as the renewal of cafe leases his family had an interest in were coming up for review showed he had “a very close knowledge” of the business operations.
In summarising the offence, Justice Beech-Jones said there was no difference between the lobbying undertaken by Obeid and an MP receiving a bribe.
Obeid will be eligible for parole on Decemeber 15, 2019.
In July following a three-week trial, a Supreme Court jury found him guilty of misconduct in public office over his family’s secret business dealings at Circular Quay.
The case dates back to 2007, when Obeid, a member of the NSW Legislative Council under then premier Morris Iemma, used his position to get the Maritime Authority of NSW to provide favourable deals for his family business, Circular Quay Restaurants Pty Ltd.
The Sydney Morning Herald revealed Obeid’s secret connections to the business in 2012, sparking an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation, which found that he lobbied fellow Labor MPs Michael Costa and Eric Roozendaal over the leases without disclosing his family link to change government policy, knowing it would benefit the Obeid family.
In 2014, the ICAC found Obeid and former fellow minister Joe Tripodi acted corruptly over retail leases at Sydney’s Circular Quay. The former politician appealed to overturn that finding, but lost.
The Obeid family had secret interests in two cafes on wharves four and five at Circular Quay, and sought to have the leases renewed without going to public tender.
Obeid was found to have lobbied the then deputy CEO of the Maritime Authority, pretending he was acting in the public interest, without revealing his family’s financial interests.
Obeid, 73, last year attempted to sue the state of NSW and key ICAC protagonists over the findings and boasted of a “1%” chance he would face criminal charges from the ICAC findings. It took the jury two days of deliberations to find him guilty, the first person prosecuted as a result of ICAC’s investigations.
In a separate case, the ICAC also found Obeid acted dishonestly over a Hunter Valley coal mine deal that netted his family $30 million.
The 2013 ICAC report found Obeid and former fellow NSW Labor minister Ian MacDonald engaged in corrupt conduct in a deal involving the Mount Penny coal mining licence on land owned by the Obeids in the Bylong Valley. ICAC also found Obeid’s son, Moses, acted corruptly.
The Obeids appealed that finding and lost their Supreme Court case in September.
During a 20-year career in politics, the father of nine and grandfather of 33 was minister for fisheries and mineral resources between 1999 and 2003. He retired from politics in 2011, citing family reasons, four years before his term was due to expire.
The disgraced former politician is the first one jailed in NSW for corruption in office since another Labor politician, Rex “Buckets” Jackson, was jailed in the 1980s for taking bribes.
Two other MPs subsequently served prison terms – Liberal Barry Morris in 1996 for making death threats, and Labor’s Milton Orkopoulos in 2008 for child sex and drug offences.
Obeid plans to appeal his conviction. His lawyers are now applying for bail, pending the appeal.
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