Metgasco and Obeid family links come to light after ICAC referral

Gas company Metgasco was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption by NSW Resource Minister Anthony Roberts as links to former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, and businessman Nick Di Girolamo emerge.

Yesterday, Roberts suspended Metgasco’s CSG exploration licence at Bentley near Lismore until the company can prove it has undertaken "genuine and effective consultation" with the community.

Roberts has also referred some aspects of Metgasco’s licence to the ICAC “following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests” in the company.

The Australian reports the concerns centre around Metgasco’s biggest shareholder, Queensland firm ERM Power.

ERM’s chairman, Tony Bellas, was director of Australian Water Queensland, a branch of Australian Water Holdings.

AWH activities are the subject of current ICAC investigations and its other directors include Nicholas Di Girolamo —whose gift of a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange to Barry O’Farrell caused his resignation as premier— and Wayne Myers, a Queensland-registered lobbyist.

Australian Water Queensland was deregistered last year after it was revealed that Myers was a lobbyist and Liberal party fundraiser.

A new company, Gasfield Water and Waste Services, was then created in May last year with Bellas listed as one of its main shareholders.

The two other shareholders are Myers, and Dennis Jabuor, nephew of Obeid.

Jabour is listed as the company’s sole director and owns a 60 per cent share.

Former Gasfields shareholders include Eddie Obeid jnr and the current director-general of the Queensland department of premier and cabinet, Jon Grayson.

Bellas told SMH that himself and any shareholders of ERM have nothing to do with Metgasco’s business decisions.

"We have nothing to do with Metgasco's operation, we're just a shareholder," Bellas said.

Last year, the ICAC found Eddie Obeid and former resources minister Ian Macdonald acted corruptly over creating the Mt Penny mining tenement in Bylong Valley over land owned by the Obeid family.

ICAC found Macdonald rigged the 2008 coal tender process in a deal set to make the Obeid family between $50 million and $100 million if the project was to go ahead.

The Commission's report found Macdonald misused his ministerial power by leaking confidential information to members of the Obeid family.

The corruption watchdog also said both Eddie Obeid Sr and his son Moses Obeid engaged in corrupt conduct by participating in the agreement with Macdonald.

Metgascos's PEL 16 exploration licence, which was suspended by Roberts yesterday, was renewed by Obeid when he was Minister for Resources in 2000, SMH reported.

The license was renewed again by Macdonald in 2006 and again last year by former Liberal resources minister Chris Hartcher.

Hartcher is currently being investigated by the ICAC amid alleged misdealings with Australian Water Holdings.

Hartcher and former Liberal MP’s Chris Spence and Darren Webber are accused of taking donations from companies, including AWH, and stashing them in a secret slush fund.

In an ASX statement today, Metgasco said ERM is a “passive investor in Metgasco and has no board representation”.

ERM holds 13 per cent shares in Metgasco.

“The staff and board of Metgasco have no personal, or business or any other association with Mr Bellas as far as Metgasco is aware Mr Bellas is not accused of any wrongdoing.

“In addition, the staff and board of Metgasco have no personal, or any other association Messers Obeid, Jabour or Di Girolamo.”

On the decision of Roberts’ referral of the Metgasco project to the ICAC for investigation he said:

“In accordance with Section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, I have referred this to the Commissioner to ensure that any decisions pertaining to PEL 16 have been made entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence.”

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