Kiwi car dealer invested in coal firm

KATE MCCLYMONT
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2012

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Multimillionaire Kiwi car dealer Neville Crichton was one of a group of well-known Sydney business figures who invested A$28 million (NZ$36m) into the coal company at the centre of a corruption inquiry.

"It is none of your f . . . ing business where I invest money," Crichton, 67, said of his investment in Cascade Coal, which was granted an exploration licence by the then Australian Mining Minister, Ian Macdonald.

Crichton was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to yachting and business earlier this year.

The group's A$28m investment in Cascade Coal was used to buy out a secret 25 per cent holding in the group owned by the family of controversial Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. The next day another group announced it would buy Cascade for A$500m.

Also involved in the transaction was Crichton's close friend, property developer and fellow yachting enthusiast Denis O'Neil.

Their friend Greg Jones also secretly owned 12.5 per cent of Cascade. Jones has said he did not want his investment public in case people drew "the wrong conclusions" about his friendship with Macdonald and his business associates John Kinghorn and John McGuigan, who were Cascade directors.

Jones, an eastern suburbs wheeler dealer living in Hong Kong, boasted to friends in 2009 that he was involved in a "mining deal" with his best mate, Ian Macdonald, and it was "a sure thing".

"This is going to be a multi-bagger," he boasted, meaning "bags of money", an associate has said.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating allegations Macdonald provided inside information to the Obeid family to allow them to secretly invest in Cascade, which was awarded an exploration licence at Mount Penny near Mudgee.

The Obeids and their associates, including Rocco and Ross Triulcio, bought several properties that were about to be covered by the Mount Penny exploration licence.

Crichton and O'Neil's investment in Cascade was hidden through Lost Ark Nominees, controlled by stockbroker Brent Potts and his partner Peter Gray.

Crichton agreed he was a friend of the Obeid family and they had bought a car from him, but he said he sells 30,000 cars a year and could not be expected to recall what car it was or whether it was discounted.

Fairfax Media has been told that several years ago Crichton provided a A$700,000 black Ferrari Scaglietti to Obeid's son Moses at a heavily discounted price. The car's ownership was later transferred to the Obeids' associate, Rocco Triulcio.

Triulcio has recently appeared before ICAC over his role, along with Moses Obeid, in the provision of a Honda CRV to the then ALP frontbencher Eric Roozendaal. The inquiry has heard the car was a reward for Roozendaal doing a favour for the Obeid family.

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Lost Ark Nominees' A$28m investment in Cascade was made in November 2010. The following day White Energy said it had entered into an agreement to buy Cascade for A$500m.

Cascade's only asset was the licence it had bought from the NSW government for A$1m.

The ICAC inquiry has heard that Cascade was owned by several of the directors of White Energy, including Brian Flannery, Travers Duncan, John Atkinson, John Kinghorn and John McGuigan.

Evidence has also been given that at the time Potts' company, Lost Ark, was buying the A$28m share parcel, his broking company, Southern Cross Equities, was publishing research reports supporting White Energy acquiring Cascade.

No disclosure was made of Mr Potts' investment or that several White Energy directors also owned Cascade Coal and stood to make A$50m each if the sale went through, which it did not.

When the commission resumes on Thursday, Duncan is expected to give evidence, followed by Flannery and Kinghorn.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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