Proclaimed safety: Eddie Obeid rated chances of prosecution as “1 per cent”. Photo: Rob HomerThe lack of criminal prosecutions flowing from investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption will be examined by a parliamentary inquiry following taunts by corrupt former minister Eddie Obeid that the chances of him being prosecuted were “1 per cent”.
The inquiry, to be chaired by former attorney-general Greg Smith, will gather evidence from legal experts, academics, investigative bodies in NSW and other states and the wider community “on ways to strengthen current processes”.
Mr Smith, who is now chairman of the parliamentary oversight committee for the ICAC, said the commission played an “enormously important role” in uncovering and exposing corrupt behaviour.
“It is important to ensure that there is an appropriate outcome if someone has been found to have acted corruptly,” he said.
The terms of reference for the inquiry include whether the commission’s “processes” can be improved to ensure prosecutions go ahead.
The inquiry will also focus on whether the ICAC’s functions require amending “to prioritise the assembling of admissible evidence for criminal prosecution” and whether new criminal offences should be created “that capture corrupt conduct”.
Because the ICAC can compel witnesses to give evidence, they are given the opportunity to take a “section 38” objection. This means their testimony cannot be used against them in criminal proceedings, except for those brought for lying to the ICAC.
Attorney-General Brad Hazzard recently warned the public could lose confidence in the ICAC unless criminal prosecutions followed its findings.
His comments came days after the ICAC found Mr Obeid and his former ministerial colleague Joe Tripodi had acted corruptly over business interests at Circular Quay secretly held by the Obeid family.
The commission recommended the NSW director of public prosecutions consider charging Mr Obeid with misconduct in public office.
But Mr Obeid, who has previously been found to have acted corruptly in relation to the issuing of lucrative coal licences over land owned by his family at Mount Penny in the Bylong Valley, said he had legal advice the DPP would not lay charges and chances of a prosecution were “1 per cent”.
Mr Hazzard branded Mr Obeid’s comments “arrogant” and warned that “the government has news for him and it has news for anybody.”
“It doesn’t matter what your political background, how wealthy, how poor, we are determined that the ICAC will actually see prosecutions,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We want the system to be improved to the point where those prosecutions do flow and people have a real fear that they will in fact be criminally charged and found guilty if it’s appropriate.”
In August last year, then premier Barry O’Farrell announced the formation and funding of a “special ICAC prosecutions unit” to pursue criminal charges against former Mr Obeid and his former ministerial colleague Ian Macdonald, who the ICAC found acted corruptly in creating a mining tenement over the Mount Penny land.
Submissions to the inquiry are invited until August 1.