The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has recommended charges be considered against former NSW Labor ministers Eddie Obeid Snr, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly, after finding they engaged in serious corrupt conduct.
The ICAC found Mr Kelly and Mr Tripodi used their ministerial positions to push for Australian Water Holdings (AWH) to be awarded a lucrative government contract, which the watchdog says would have financially benefited the Obeid family.
The report on the investigation, known as Operation Credo, was released in Sydney on Thursday morning, more than three years after the commission wrapped up its public hearings.
It found Mr Tripodi was “doing Mr Obeid’s bidding” and he “sought to improperly influence” Mr Kelly to present a doctored Cabinet minute recommending the government enter direct negotiations with AWH.
Political staffer Gilbert ‘Laurie’ Brown was also found to have engaged in serious corrupt conduct.
The ICAC recommended the Director of Public Prosecutions consider charging the four men with misconduct in public office, which is a criminal offence carrying a jail term.
NSW Police Minister Troy Grant said he hopes “the book gets thrown at them”.
“There’s plenty of spare beds down at Cooma jail waiting for them.”
Sinodinos hails end of ‘long and comprehensive’ inquiry
However, no adverse findings were made against federal frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos, a former director, deputy chairman and chairman of the AWH board.
Senator Sinodinos was forced to stand aside as assistant treasurer during the public hearings, after damaging headlines about his time with the company.
He was grilled in the witness box about tens of thousands of dollars AWH donated to the NSW Liberals when he was the party’s honorary treasurer, but which were billed to Sydney Water by the company.
He used the phrase “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recall” more than 50 times during his evidence, but has not been the subject of any adverse comments in the report.
“I note that the ICAC has made no adverse findings or commentary against me in Operation Credo,” Senator Sinodinos said in a statement.
“This brings to an end a long and comprehensive process.
“I thank my family and colleagues for their support throughout.”
Ministers ‘misused position’
The ICAC found between late 2007 and 2010, Obeid misused his position as an MP to promote AWH’s interests knowing his family stood to benefit financially should they acquire shares in the company.
Further, the ICAC found in 2010 he misused his position to advance his family’s interests by working towards the submission of a minute to the Budget Committee of Cabinet recommending the NSW government enter direct negotiations with AWH, without disclosing the potential financial benefits.
Mr Kelly was found in 2010 to have misused his office as a minister by arranging for the preparation and submission of a minute to the budget committee that would have enabled AWH to enter direct negotiation with the Government over its public-private partnership proposal for water infrastructure in Sydney’s north-west.
Mr Tripodi was found to have misused his position as an MP by preparing a draft document for Mr Brown and Mr Kelly to use as the basis for the minute.
The commission found Mr Tripodi and Mr Brown, Mr Kelly’s then-chief of staff, both acted with the intention of improperly favouring Obeid.
“Mr Tripodi was improperly motivated by a desire to provide an outcome favourable to AWH because he understood that was what [Eddie] Obeid wanted.”
Obeid and Mr Tripodi were the leaders of the Terrigals faction – a splinter of the right wing of the NSW Labor Party – and the commission found that, given the closeness of their relationship, it was likely Mr Tripodi knew the Obeids were interested in investing in AWH.
Further, it found he knew approving the public-private partnership (PPP) would increase the value of the company.
It rejected Mr Tripodi’s denial that he drove the PPP proposal on behalf of the Obeids.
Whether the Obeid family acquired a financial interest in AWH was at issue during the hearings, with the Obeids maintaining that a $1 million payment in November 2010 and a $2 million payment in late 2011 pursuant to a heads of agreement were loans.
However, the commission found the payments were for the purchase of shares and the Obeid family were trying to keep their investments secret.