Fallen NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid says he was motivated by duty, not greed, in requesting ministerial meetings and approaching a premier on behalf of Australian Water Holdings (AWH) and its boss Nick Di Girolamo.
His statement is at odds with the silk leading an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probe into the firm, who believes Mr Obeid was motivated by pure greed.
Counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC has told the inquiry the Obeid family had a secret stake in AWH and stood to make up to $60 million from a proposed public-private partnership (PPP) with the NSW government.
Mr Obeid took his much-anticipated turn in the ICAC witness box on Wednesday, where he admitted approaching former senior NSW Labor politicians Michael Costa, Phil Costa, Morris Iemma, Kristina Keneally and Nathan Rees on Mr Di Girolamo’s behalf.
He conceded he even called Ms Keneally at home during her time as premier, to urge her to consider the AWH proposal on its merits and not let the fact his son Edward was working for the company colour her judgment.
These comments came despite telling the ICAC in a private interview last year he was “positive” he had never mentioned the firm to Ms Keneally.
And although he denied lobbying fellow former MPs Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly, he conceded he attended one meeting between Mr Di Girolamo and then-treasurer Michael Costa where a long-running dispute between AWH and Sydney Water was discussed.
“That’s the way I treated every constituent that wants my help,” Mr Obeid told the inquiry.
“I object to (suggestions I was) ‘doing favours’ – I did what my duty allowed me to do which was solve a problem that could blow up as far as the government’s concerned.”
But Mr Watson claimed Mr Obeid had attempted to further AWH’s aims at every turn.
“You knew at all times that your family was closely involved with Australian Water Holdings, you knew from November 2010 that your family owned one quarter of the company,” he said.
“Mr Obeid, at all times, you were motivated by nothing more than just personal greed to try and secure an improper outcome.”
Mr Obeid spat back: “That’s your version and it’s rubbish.”
Moments later he was outside the commission, wearing a thin smile and telling reporters: “I never lie.”
Anyone found to have wilfully given false or misleading evidence to the commission can be jailed for up to five years.
Mr Obeid echoed the testimony of his sons Paul and Moses, who have each claimed a 2010 agreement recorded a $3 million loan to AWH chief executive Nick Di Girolamo, not a share purchase.
He said he would not have approved of the loan if he had known about it and thought the proposed PPP was “stupid” but never meddled in his sons’ affairs.
“I do not go and second guess what they’re doing.”
Late in the day, former planning minister Tony Kelly denied altering a cabinet minute to favour AWH’s PPP bid.
He will return to the witness box on Thursday.