The Obeids’ infamous Mount Penny coal deal has made a cameo during an inquiry into another allegedly Obeid-linked firm, Australian Water Holdings.
“Yes, we’ve been in a few,” Eddie Obeid Junior laughingly told the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Friday.
But he’s not worried the corruption watchdog is picking on his family, telling reporters: “No, they’re doing their job.”
The youngest son of crooked ex-MP Eddie Obeid spent nearly six hours in the ICAC witness box, where he denied his family had a secret shareholding in Australian Water Holdings (AWH) or that he played a major role in the firm’s operations.
A month-long public inquiry into AWH has previously heard it was in such bad financial shape in 2011 that it was struggling to pay tax.
But Eddie Jnr agreed that in February 2011, businessman John McGuigan was considering ploughing $15 million into AWH using cash made through another Obeid-linked business venture: the infamous coal deal at Mount Penny, in inland NSW.
That deal was last year declared corrupt following a separate ICAC probe.
“It was going to be a purchase of 30 per cent of the shares, conditional upon White Energy Company purchasing Cascade Coal Pty Ltd, now you know all about that, don’t you. That’s the Mount Penny transaction,” counsel assisting the commission Geoffrey Watson SC said.
“Yes,” Eddie Jnr replied. “But (the AWH share sale) never went ahead.”
The corruption watchdog has heard claims AWH fraudulently billed Sydney Water for lavish salaries, limousine travel and luxury hotel stays.
It is also investigating whether the Obeids had a $3 million stake in the firm and stood to make up to $60 million if a lucrative government deal went through.
Eddie Jnr told the inquiry that what appears to be a multi-million-dollar share purchase was in fact a personal loan to his close friend and former AWH chief executive, Nick Di Girolamo.
None of the money, nor interest, has yet been repaid.
“Sounds like a pretty good loan, doesn’t it?” Mr Watson said.
“I think I’m a fairly reasonable mate, yes,” Eddie Jnr replied, adding that his friend – who he says does not own a house or any other assets – had been under “financial duress”.
“He needed time and as a friend I thought I would give him that time,” he said.
He’s told the commission Mr Di Girolamo “had the odd flutter” but could not say whether his friend had a heavy gambling habit that might explain “expenditure of tens of thousands a week at some stages”, as suggested by Sydney Water barrister Bruce Oslington QC.
“I know that Nick had the odd punt but I don’t profess to know his complete finances,” Eddie Jnr said.
“Was the odd punt in terms of $10 or $20,000 a week?” Mr Oslington replied.
“I couldn’t guess. I don’t know,” Eddie Jnr said.
Bank details tendered to the inquiry suggest Mr Di Girolamo made payments of $10,000, $20,000, $35,000 and $55,000 to “Topsport” between September 2008 and June 2009.
It is not clear whether this refers to the sports betting site of the same name.
Mr Di Girolamo is expected to give evidence when the inquiry resumes on Monday.