NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has again denied he received a 1959 bottle of Grange Hermitage, following his appearance at a corruption inquiry in which he was grilled about his relationship with Nick Di Girolamo, a Liberal Party fundraiser and the former chief executive of Australian Water Holdings.
“I want to categorically refute the claims about the 1959 bottle of Grange,” he said – repeating the denial over and over in a surreal press conference lasting more than 30 minutes.
Journalists questioned him repeatedly and aggressively about the allegations in his toughest press conference since becoming Premier three years ago.
“If I had received the 1959 Grange, I would have declared it on the parliamentary register,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The Premier reiterated that he had spoken to his wife Rosemary and she did not recall getting the $3000 bottle either, adding that even if it had been overlooked, they moved house in August and did not notice it then.
Grange Hermitage, made by Penfold’s in South Australia, is one of the world’s most renowned and expensive wines. The 1959 vintage is the Premier’s birth year, and is a cult vintage among collectors.
O’Farrell said a courier docket tendered as evidence to show the wine was delivered to his house suggested it arrived on Good Friday and that his family had spent Easter on the Gold Coast.
Phone records show O’Farrell made a 28-second phone call to Di Girolamo at 9.29pm on the night the wine was supposedly delivered to his Roseville home.
But he remained at a loss to explain why he made the call the day it was supposedly delivered.
“I know nothing about that call… I may have been returning a call received earlier that day,” he said.
Four weeks after the wine was supposedly sent as a “congratulations” for winning the March 2011, the Premier had a 15-minute meeting with Di Girolamo about Australian Water Holdings’ plans for the public-private partnership with Sydney Water.
Mr O’Farrell said he remained “confident” that both he and the Liberal Government had acted appropriately in all their dealings with Australian Water Holdings.
“The handling of Australia Water Holdings issues by my government has been above board, with due process and at arms length.
“We at all times followed departmental advice.”
Mr O’Farrell also repeatedly denied that he was susceptible to the largesse of lobbyists.
“If people believe that by delivering a gift to me they’re going to secure a meeting, they’re absolutely wrong,” the Premier said.
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