Former NSW politician Eddie Obeid famously declared there was a “one per cent” chance of criminal charges being brought against him after adverse findings by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Now, Mr Obeid faces a lengthy prison sentence after being found guilty of misconduct in public office.
Obeid’s lawyers tried to have his charges permanently stayed (indefinitely put off) in April, arguing they were invalid and that the Supreme Court had no power to hear them, but the application was refused.
The charges relate to Obeid’s lobbying of a senior maritime official over café leases at popular Sydney tourism and dining strip Circular Quay while he was a member of the NSW Upper House.
During the trial, the Supreme Court heard Obeid had made representations between August and November 2007 to the NSW Maritime Authority’s Deputy Chief Executive Steve Dunn over the leases, with the intention of seeking a beneficial outcome, and that he failed to disclose his personal financial interest in the cafes.
Prosecutors argued that Obeid duped Mr Dunn into believing he was acting on behalf of constituents, when he and his family were actually receiving 90 per cent of the profits from the businesses.
It took the jury less than 24 hours to return a guilty verdict. Obeid, now 72, is currently on a parliamentary pension of $120,000 per year, although NSW Premier Mike Baird says he is seeking advice on whether the pension can be revoked.
“The justice system has operated and the verdict speaks for itself. I have zero tolerance for corruption in New South Wales, and zero sympathy for those who are found guilty of it,” Mr Baird said.
Mr Obeid’s criminal prosecution followed an inquiry by NSW anti-corruption watchdog ICAC, originally prompted by an award winning piece of investigative journalism published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012.
Former NSW Premiers Morris Iemma and Kristina Keneally were both called to give evidence at the trial.
Boost for ICAC
David Ipp, who headed up ICAC from 2009 to 2014, has told ABC online that the conviction demonstrates the importance of ICAC – a body that has recently come under fire for its bungled inquiry into prominent criminal lawyer Margaret Cunneen. The body has also faced threats to wind back its powers and cut funding.
In ICAC’s support, Mr Ipp has told the media:
“…. ICAC was able to gather the evidence that the prosecution was able to use to prove its case against Obeid beyond reasonable doubt”.
“It would be a very sad thing for New South Wales and Australia if those powers are watered down.”
“Without ICAC, this case against Obeid would never have been exposed and Mr Obeid would have gotten away with it”.
Mr Ipp believes the guilty verdict also adds strength to the argument for a federal watchdog to investigate corruption on a national scale.
“This kind of thing happens from time to time all over Australia, it happens all over the world and it’s happened since time immemorial.
“The best way to control corruption is to have a powerful and energetic anti-corruption body,” said Ipp.
Misconduct in public office is a common law offence which is rarely prosecuted and does not have a prescribed maximum penalty.
Crown Prosecutor, Peter Neil, SC, says he will be pushing for a prison sentence in Obeid’s case.
The parties will make submissions on sentencing in the Supreme Court on August 12.