By Ugur Nedim and Sonia Hickey
Eddie Obeid looked solemn and downcast as he learned his fate in the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney.
The 73- year old former Labor Party kingpin has spent his first night behind bars at Silverwater Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, but is likely to eventually be transferred to Long Bay prison’s Kevin Waller unit for elderly inmates.
Obeid was sentenced to the maximum prison term of five years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years, after being found guilty of using his position as a member of the NSW Upper House to lobby a senior bureaucrat over lucrative Circular Quay cafe leases, without revealing his family’s financial interests in the property.
Long road to justice
Eddie Obeid first came under the scrutiny of Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) several years ago. In 2013, the state corruption watchdog found that Obeid had acted corruptly over the granting of a coal licence on land owned by his family at Mount Penny, and recommended criminal charges against him.
A year later in 2014, ICAC found that Obeid and fellow ex-NSW minister Joe Tripodi engaged in corrupt conduct over Circular Quay café leases.
Obeid once famously declared that there was a “one per cent” chance of criminal charges being brought against him after adverse findings by ICAC. But in December 2014, he faced charges in the NSW Supreme Court of misconduct in a public office. He pleaded not guilty.
Obeid’s criminal lawyers tried to have the charges against him permanently staved (put off indefinitely) to no avail.
His trial began in February 2016, but was vacated after 10 days as new evidence emerged. A retrial began in June, lasting three weeks.
Conviction, sentencing and appeal
It took the jury less than a day to return a guilty verdict against Obeid, and his case was adjourned for sentencing.
After hearing submissions from both parties, Justice Robert Beech-Jones imposed a full term of 5 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 3 years – meaning Obeid is eligible to apply for release from prison after 3 years.
The judge found no difference between a politician taking a bribe and Obeid using his position as an MP to advance the interests of his family.
He said it was “inconceivable” that Obeid was unaware he was prohibited from using his position as an MP for the financial benefit of his family, given his 16 years in parliament.
“He intentionally abused the public trust proposed in him as a member of the legislative council of NSW,” the judge noted.
Obeid’s lawyers applied for bail pending an appeal, citing a range of reasons including their client’s health – the former minister is said to have suffered a stroke in August this year. It was argued that a combination of factors amounted to special or exceptional circumstances, justifying a grant of bail.
However the judge refused bail, finding that the matters put forth by the defence team did not amount to exceptional circumstances.
The defence has foreshadowed 10 proposed grounds of appeal, including that the verdict was unreasonable and could not be supported by the evidence.
May be stripped of pension
Premier Mike Baird has announced proposals to change to the law to prevent Obeid, as well as other retired MPs who are convicted of crimes, from receiving a parliamentary pension.