[Editor’s Note: … and Australian political leaders keep accusing other countries of corruption … yes, and why did Premier Bob Carr axe Eddie Obeid from cabinet? — Ian Curr, July, 2014]
One million dollars which was transferred from a Swiss bank account operated by former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson was likely to have been Eddie Obeid’s share of the mysterious Offset Alpine deal, a new book reveals.
A fire, which destroyed the Offset Alpine printing plant on Christmas Eve 1993, remains one of the country’s enduring mysteries as those involved made a windfall out of the insurance payout.
In a new book, He Who Must Be Obeid, journalists Kate McClymont and Linton Besser reveal that the corrupt former Labor MP Eddie Obeid had failed to pay for his share of the Offset Alpine business. Yet he continually pressed his business partners, stockbroker Rene Rivkin and Mr Richardson, who was a silent investor, for a share of the insurance payout.
Mr Obeid, who has had a string of corruption findings made against him since leaving the State Parliament in 2011, bought the redundant printing company Offset Alpine from the late media mogul Kerry Packer in 1992. According to the newly released book, Mr Obeid’s initial business partner in the Offset Alpine deal was Helena Carr, whose husband Bob was the state opposition leader at the time. Documents obtained by the authors reveal that Mr Obeid and Mrs Carr, along with Max Turner, submitted a $16 million offer for the printing company.
Mr Carr told the authors that his wife was keen to purchase Offset Alpine but ”she was not keen to deal with Obeid … she walked away from the deal’’. Instead, Mr Obeid purchased the business – for $1 million less – with Mr Rivkin putting up the money and with Mr Richardson as a silent partner.
But as he was to do throughout his entire business career, Mr Obeid had taken an option to buy his 25 per cent of the company for $2 million. Mr Obeid’s son Paul had gone on the board to protect the Obeid family’s interest.
When the factory burned down on December 24, 1993, the Obeids’ option had lapsed. However, when word got out that the company had just taken out a healthy insurance policy, the share price went through the roof. Although the Obeids had not paid their share, they still demanded a cut of the insurance windfall.
Mr Rivkin refused.
In August 1994, just weeks after the final payment of the $53.2 million insurance claim, Paul Obeid resigned from the Offset board.
Several months later, Mr Richardson directed that $1 million be transferred from his account at EBC Zurich to Beirut, via the Arab Bank in New York.
Mr Richardson’s handwritten instructions, which had previously been revealed by The Australian Financial Review, show that on December 6, 1994, he directed the money be paid to Dennis Jamil Lattouf, via the Dora branch of the Arab Bank in Beirut.
Mr Richardson told the authors he could not recall that name. ‘‘If I did that, it was under the instructions of [Rene ] Rivkin.’’
For the first time it can be revealed that Mr Lattouf, who founded the Levant Transport Company in 1992, was a close associate of Eddie Obeid. Mr Lattouf’s son Walid, who now runs the family’s freight forwarding business, is good friends with Paul Obeid, who has been seen going to Mr Lattouf’s office in Beirut.
Walid Lattouf confirmed the two families are close. The Obeids and the Lattoufs are at present involved in a tourism development in Jounieh, north of Beirut. According to the book, Eddie Obeid is understood to have guaranteed a $US12 million loan from the Societe Generale bank to fund the planned coastal resort.
In 2008, Mr Richardson settled a stoush with the Australian Tax Office over a $2.3 million tax bill from money Mr Richardson had in a separate Swiss bank account with Bank Leumi.
During his tax battle, Mr Richardson admitted that he had obtained money form Bank Leumi but claimed the substantial funds were merely gifts from Mr Rivkin in recognition of Mr Richardson’s ‘‘personal qualities’’, his lawyer told the Federal Court.
The Obeid family is now locked in a battle with the Tax Office over the $30 million the family received from a corrupt coal mine tender which was presided over by Mr Obeid’s then colleague Ian Macdonald.
The real reason why then Premier Bob Carr axed Mr Obeid from cabinet in 2003 will be revealed in an extract from the book, which will appear in Good Weekend on Saturday.
He Who Must be Obeid, by Linton Besser and Kate McClymont, Vintage Australia, $34.99, published today.