Criminal charges were yesterday recommended against two former high-profile Australian Labor ministers over corruption allegations following an explosive inquiry that gripped Sydney for months.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) found that Eddie Obeid, formerly a powerful kingpin in the New South Wales (NSW) state Labor party, and former state resources minister Ian Macdonald both acted corruptly over a coal-mining deal.
They were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who will consider whether to lay criminal charges over a scam which the inquiry heard enabled Obeid and his family to make tens of millions of dollars.
Obeid’s son and five influential businessmen were also referred to the DPP for “various offenses” over the mine at Mount Penny.
The damning findings could rub off on the party’s image nationally, with Labor already facing a tough fight against a Tony Abbott-led conservative coalition in elections later this year.
“Today is a black day in the history of the Labor party,” Abbott told reporters, noting that Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr elevated Obeid to his ministry when he was NSW state premier in the 1990s.
“The ICAC has exposed the rottenness at the heart of the NSW Labor party and the rottenness at the heart of the Labor party nationally,” he said.
Ahead of the findings, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he had been disgusted by the alleged behavior and that any party members involved in illegal activity should face justice.
“My view is very simple — anyone who is responsible for corruption or illegal behavior should face the full force of the law,” he said.
The inquiry, the biggest in the history of New South Wales, heard from 150 witnesses over six months and saw people lining for hours to get a glimpse of the proceedings.
Obeid denied during the hearings that he used highly confidential information about a prospective coal license to effect a “massive fraud on the people of New South Wales.”
He is accused of conspiring with Macdonald to rig a 2008 tender to grant the lucrative license over land at Mount Penny — land which he and his family secretly purchased in 2007-2008 and which soared in value once the license was in place.