The court heard that Moses and Nicole Obeid moved next door to Peter and Nicki Fitzhenry in Elizabeth Bay in around 2004. “They were delightful people,” said panel beater Mr Fitzhenry. The two families became good friends dining at each other’s houses several times a week.
Mr Fitzhenry told the NSW Supreme Court that Moses’s father Eddie Obeid was looking for a rural retreat. “My dad wants to cook goats and hang around the property,” he said Moses told him.
The Obeids purchased Cherrydale Park, in the Bylong Valley near Mudgee with settlement taking place in November 2007. Moses told his neighbours it was a beautiful property that had been owned by Kerry Packer’s accountant.
Not long after the purchase Moses told Mr Fitzhenry there was coal underneath the property and if it was mined it would be “a life-changing situation, it would be fantastic money wise.”
Moses Obeid suggested that the Fitzhenrys buy the adjoining farm for $3 million because there was a rail line through it which would make it attractive for a mining company. “There was a substantial amount of money to be made out of it,” Mr Fitzhenry recalled Moses telling him.
Mr Fitzhenry said Moses Obeid said if his neighbours bought the adjoining property the Obeids would look after the mortgage payments.
“I understood the whole thing, and I didn’t want any part of it,” Mr Fitzhenry told the court.
Mrs Fitzhenry recalled Moses saying his family stood to make $100 million from the coal underneath Cherrydale Park. “Anyone who invested in the properties nearby would also make a lot of money,” she recalled Moses telling her.
Moses Obeid said there was a minister who notified the Obeids about the coal deposits.
“Who was that minister?” asked Crown prosecutor Rebekah Roger. “Ian Macdonald,” replied Mrs Fitzhenry.
Mr Fitzhenry said that he had seen Ian Macdonald at his neighbours’ house and, on another occasion, controversial former minister Joe Tripodi. On another occasion Eddie Obeid held a meeting with the now Assistant Commissioner Tony Crandell in the Fitzhenrys’ kitchen, Mr Fitzhenry said.
The court has heard that in May 2008, Macdonald passed on confidential information to the Obeids about coal reserves at Mount Penny and the prospect of it being released for tender. The Obeid family subsequently negotiated a $60 million payout from the successful bidder for the coal exploration licence, of which the Obeids received half.
The trial continues.
Kate McClymont is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.