One of New South Wales’s most notorious politicians, the former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, 77, has been released on health grounds ahead of a bail hearing after he was sentenced to seven years in jail over a rigged tender for a coal exploration licence.
His co-conspirator, the former NSW minerals minister Ian Macdonald, 72, was on Thursday sentenced to nine years and six months over his part in the conspiracy to gain a mining lease over the Obeid’s family farm at Bylong in regional NSW.
Obeid’s son, Moses Obeid, 52, was sentenced to five years for his role in the conspiracy.
The three men were found guilty in July of a conspiracy to wilfully have Macdonald commit misconduct in public office involving the granting of a coal exploration licence by Macdonald over land owned by an Obeid family company.
Passing sentence, justice Elizabeth Fullerton said “the objective seriousness of the crime was one of the highest order”.
She said she had taken into account the extended period of time over which the conspiracy was executed, the five discrete acts of wilful misconduct by Macdonald in furtherance of the conspiracy and the extent to which Moses and Eddie Obeid were complicit in the agreement.
Fullerton said she also took account of the need to provide deterrence to other people in public office, the Covid-19 outbreaks in jail and the health of the men.
But she said there had been no expression of remorse or contrition, or acknowledgment of the damage they had inflicted on public trust in the institutions they had once served.
Fullerton described Macdonald as playing “a pivotal role” in the conspiracy which rendered his criminal culpability “high”.
Moses Obeid had been “enthusiastic, to say the least” that Macdonald breach his duty as a minister in order to deliver “very significant financial benefits” to the Obeid family. But she said he did not hold public office.
Eddie Obeid’s culpability was “more egregious” because of the position he occupied at the time, namely as a member of parliament. She found Eddie Obeid had encouraged Moses in his criminal endeavour and had been consulted by his son on the elaborate scheme.
The three men on Thursday afternoon indicated they would appeal against their convictions and seek bail while the appeals were heard.
Fullerton allowed Obeid, who’s at risk of dying if he catches Covid-19, to be released to his Sydney home overnight before the 77-year-old applies for bail on Friday pending a conviction appeal.
Macdonald and Moses Obeid were taken to Sydney Police Centre in Surry Hills and were expected to also lodge urgent bail applications on Friday morning.
During the year-long trial which finished in February, the Crown had alleged that between September 2007 and January 2009, then mining minister Macdonald provided the Obeids with “inside information” on who would win coal exploration rights over their property Cherrydale Park, near Mount Penny in the Bylong Valley.
The court found that Macdonald directed his department to reduce the size of the exploration licence and limit the tender to smaller mining companies.
The Obeids used confidential information provided to them by the minister to gain a 25% stake in the winning bidder, Cascade Coal. They also used friends and associates to snap up the neighbouring properties ahead of the licence being granted.
They later used their combined landholding strength to strike a deal with Cascade Coal that their farms would be bought for four times their value when mining commenced. Combined with their secret shareholding in Cascade, the court heard, the Obeids stood to make up to $60m out of the deal.
Fullerton, who heard the case without a jury, has said she was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the three had conspired to the effect that Macdonald “wilfully breached” his duties as a minister of the Crown in order to provide a financial advantage to the Obeid family.
Fullerton found Macdonald committed five acts of misconduct in setting up and granting the licence, Moses Obeid exploited the misconduct and that Eddie was aware of it.
This will be Eddie Obeid’s second stint in jail.
Obeid was jailed for five years in December 2016 after being found guilty of lobbying a public servant to secure lease renewals for two lucrative Circular Quay businesses in 2008, without revealing his family’s financial interests in the outlets. He was released on parole in 2019.
Obeid turns 78 on Monday. He will serve at least three years and 10 months of his prison sentence before being eligible for parole in August 2025. Fullerton recommended that he should be incarcerated in the Long Bay jail hospital wing due to his health.
Obeid’s son Moses Obeid received a lesser sentence of five years with a non-parole period of three years. Fullerton noted the impact of the media coverage on his longstanding depression and anxiety.
Macdonald will serve at least five years and three months of his sentence before being eligible for parole.