Corruption findings against mining magnate Travers Duncan and three other businessmen will be overturned, New South Wales’ corruption watchdog says.
The backdown is a result of a High Court loss by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in a case involving crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen.
The four men were found to have engaged in corrupt conduct through their dealings with former Labor minister Eddie Obeid over a mining lease over his land in NSW’s Bylong Valley.
In a stunning backdown, ICAC announced it would consent to orders sought in the Court of Appeal by Mr Duncan and fellow former Cascade Coal directors John McGuigan, Richard Poole and John Atkinson.
In a statement, ICAC said it accepted it had no legal basis to fight the men’s application to have the corruption findings overturned.
“Following the High Court of Australia decision in ICAC v Cunneen, Messrs Duncan, McGuigan, Poole and Atkinson told the Commission that they would apply to the NSW Court of Appeal to make orders declaring that the findings of corrupt conduct made against them in the Operation Jasper report were made without, and in excess of, the Commissioner’s jurisdiction and are a nullity,” ICAC said.
“On the basis of its legal advice and in light of the High Court decision, the Commission accepts that it has no arguable basis or option to resist the orders sought.”
Earlier this month, Ms Cunneen won a High Court challenge to ICAC’s decision to investigate her over allegations she had advised her son’s girlfriend to pretend to have chest pains to avoid a breath test.
The court found the commission was acting outside its power because the allegations did not amount to “corrupt conduct” under the ICAC Act.
The decision prompted ICAC to call for the legislation to be changed, saying the judgement would significantly damage its ability to carry out investigations.
The findings against Mr Duncan, Mr McGuigan, Mr Poole and Mr Atkinson were made in 2013 after ICAC’s Operation Jasper, which also led to corruption findings against former Labor ministers Ian Macdonald and Eddie Obeid.
It investigated Mr Macdonald’s decision to create the Mt Penny mining tenement over land owned by Mr Obeid.
It found Mr Duncan, Mr McGuigan, Mr Poole and Mr Atkinson – who were directors of Cascade Coal – acted corruptly by covering up Mr Obeid’s involvement in the tenement.
The NSW Government has not responded to ICAC’s proposal for amendments to the ICAC Act, but the State Opposition supports it.