Three former NSW Labor ministers could face criminal charges, with the state’s corruption watchdog finding a cabinet document was altered in a bid to deliver millions to the family of now jailed ex-MP Eddie Obeid.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigated controversial water infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings during a 2014 inquiry which ensnared both sides of politics.
It found then-Labor MPs Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly engaged in serious corrupt conduct in relation to a lucrative public-private partnership proposal by AWH between 2007 and 2010.
Mr Kelly’s former chief of staff Gilbert “Laurie” Brown also did so, the ICAC report on Operation Credo released on Thursday states.
The corruption watchdog recommended consideration be given to “obtaining the advice of the Director of Public Prosecution with respect to the prosecution” of the four men.
Changes to a cabinet minute regarding the PPP proposal between AWH and the government is what brought Mr Tripodi, Mr Kelly and Mr Brown down.
Mr Kelly admitted during the inquiry to instructing Mr Brown to rewrite a cabinet minute.
Advice prepared by an expert consultant submitted to Mr Kelly’s office all but scotched the PPP proposal and urged the government not to enter direct negotiations with AWH.
But the minute later submitted to the budget committee with Mr Kelly’s signature reversed that recommendation.
ICAC heard this enabled AWH to proceed to negotiation with the NSW government over the partnership that could have delivered millions to the company – for which Obeid’s son worked and in which his family had shares.
Additionally, two findings of corrupt conduct were made against Obeid, who is already in jail for misconduct in public office relating to a lucrative Circular Quay lease.
The ICAC found Obeid misused his position as an MP to promote AWH’s interests in order to benefit his family on two occasions.
“The conduct involved an attempted perversion of the cabinet decision-making process, involved a substantial breach of public trust by putting the interests of an individual before the public interest and could constitute a serious criminal offence,” Thursday’s report states.
It made no adverse findings against Liberal party members in its report including federal senator Arthur Sinodinos who was the deputy chairman of AWH between 2009 and 2010.
The Liberal senator stepped down from the front bench in March 2014 when he was drawn into the scandal but was reinstated 18 months later.
Senator Sinodinos on Thursday said the report’s release was the end of “a long and comprehensive process”.
Then premier Barry O’Farrell dramatically resigned in 2014 after admitting he misled ICAC over a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage.
Current premier Gladys Berejiklian used Thursday’s findings to attack the opposition, calling them “yet another example of the way the former Labor government held the people of NSW in contempt and ran the state to line its own pockets”.
Labor leader Luke Foley distanced himself from the three former ministers declaring authorities should “throw the book at them”.