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(AUSTRALIA) Obeid Part Two Report: As corrupt politician Eddie Obeid fought to stay out of prison this year, his family was secretly backing two controversial coastal property developments #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Nov.09: The proposal has split the local community, fearful it could see the entire area opened for development” It has also led to allegations the family is targeting Aboriginal-owned land in pursuit of new deals.

#AceDailyNews according to a ‘Four Corners‘ Report: An investigation has found the Obeids have concealed their involvement in a $100-million beachside apartment project in the tiny town of Hawks Nest and allegations they are targeting Aboriginal-owned land ….

Sweeping coastline beach front at Hawks Nest
The untouched beachfront at Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito  )

Howard’s hideaway

Locals having a coffee in Hawks Nest town centre.
Locals having a coffee in Hawks Nest town centre.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

The quiet seaside town of Hawks Nest, population 1200, lies  2.5  hours north of Sydney. 

A retiree man walks his dog in Hawks Nest in front of a hedge.
A man walks his dog in Hawks Nest.

It was the regular holiday destination of former prime minister John Howard in the mid-1990s.

Little has changed here since.

Retirees after swimming at Jimmy's Beach in Hawks Nest.
People swimming at Jimmy’s Beach in Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

There are holiday houses, pelicans and a population dominated by retirees.

Two kids riding on bikes in Hawks Nest
Kids riding on bikes in Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

 Kids on bikes share the streets with wandering brush turkeys.

Cakes and treats on shelves at the Hawks Nest bakery.
Cakes and treats on offer at the Hawks Nest bakery.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

A bakery, surf shop and newsagent selling bait and tackle remain the shopping highlights.  

Lorna Russom inside the Mungo Road surf shop.
Lorna Russom, who owns the Mungo Road surf shop.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Lorna Russom has run the surf shop on the main street for 30 years. 

“People that come here, aren’t really looking for that glitz and glamour,” she says. 

“They come here because they love the nature.”

The centrepiece of this rustic getaway is an untouched stretch of beach running north from the town to the national park.

A cyclist riding on the beach at Hawks Nest
A cyclist riding on the beach at Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
a older man in a wet suit stands at the ocean shore
The ‘Mullets’ ocean swimming group meet every morning at 7:30am.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Shells on the beach at Hawks Nest
Shells on the beach at Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

“You’ve got 15km of pristine beach with not a building in sight,” says local resident and conservationist, Ian Morphett.

This will change if the Obeids get their way.

Obeid Inc.

Eddie Obeid was sentenced in October to a minimum of three years and 10 months in prison for his part in rigging a lucrative mining tender on family-owned land west of Sydney.

Second son Moses Obeid will be in prison for at least three years for his role in the same conspiracy.

Composite of family patriarch Eddie Obeid (left) and Moses Obeid (right).
Family patriarch Eddie Obeid (left) and Moses Obeid (right).(Sydney Morning Herald: Edwina Pickles, Dean Sewell)

The NSW government has vowed to go after the $30 million Eddie and Moses Obeid corruptly obtained from the deal, plus the millions more they owe in legal fees and court costs.

“You can’t act corruptly, you can’t make $30 million [corruptly] and keep it,” says NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

“It’s outrageous if that’s the case.”

Barrister Geoffrey Watson SC, who helped uncover the dodgy dealings of Eddie Obeid and his family during sensational hearings as counsel assisting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption says the family’s business structure is straightforward and often used. 

“You have their involvement disguised or concealed by a $2 company with directors who are associates of the Obeids, but with a different surname,” he says.

“They love a little trustee, a discretionary trust in which these people who are cooperative agree to hold benefits on trust for the Obeid family.”

Beachside buy

While the family patriarch and second son, Moses Obeid are in jail, two of his other sons — Gerard and Eddie Jr — are guiding the family’s coastal property interests, according to documents obtained by Four Corners.

Eddie Obeid Jr (left) and Gerard Obeid (right).(AAP: Daniel Munoz, AFR: Nic Walker)

Their plans include a $100-million proposal to build at least 140 apartments on a beachside site next to the golf course at Hawks Nest.

One of the companies that purchased the land was the Leric Group, whose sole director is Merwin “Memo” Ibrahim.

He has emerged as a key figure in the Obeids’ growing coastal property interests and is a long-standing family friend. 

Proposed development site at Hawks Nest
The proposed development is marketed as “elevated luxury apartments with ocean views”.(Hawks Nest Beachside)

He also has multiple links to developments backed by the Obeid family, including a proposed apartment complex on Pacific Drive in Port Macquarie.  

Once again, the Obeids have not put their name to this development, though fourth son, Gerard, lives next door.

The apartment complex at Pacific Drive is being developed by a company called Laurus Projects.

Merwin Ibrahim was a founding shareholder of Laurus — a company Eddie Jr works with, according to his email address.

“I consult to them …. when you consult for someone, they give you an email address,” he told Four Corners.

Drone shot of the town Hawks Nest
Hawks Nest is a small town in the MidCoast council area.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Eddie Jr says he looks at “development opportunities” for Laurus.

“We’re entitled to do business,” he says.

Merwin Ibrahim also co-owns three blocks of land where the Pacific Drive apartment complex is slated to be built. 

He says he’s a friend of Gerard and Eddie Jr, but has never been in business with them.

“I have no business with any of the Obeid family. Never ever,” he told Four Corners.

Gerard and Eddie Jr did not respond to written questions about the family’s involvement in Pacific Drive or Hawks Nest.

The head of Laurus Projects told Four Corners the Obeid family has no involvement in the Pacific Drive development. 

A person fishing in Hawks Nest with their back to the camera.
Exactly who is behind the Hawks Nest development has been a well-kept secret.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Car driving in the night
Locals have described the development process as a ‘mystery’.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Houses in Hawks Nest
The development plans could change Hawks Nest forever.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

‘Winning Powerball’

The development activity at Hawks Nest is focused on a 1.4-hectare block purchased from the Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council for $600,000 in 2018.

The sale of the beachside site, along with another 9.6-hectare plot of land nearby for a total of $1.5 million, has split the local Indigenous community.

Karuah elder Hector Saunders looks into the distance.
Karuah elder Hector Saunders didn’t want the land granted to the local Aboriginal people to be sold.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

“I was against it,” says Karuah elder Hector Saunders.

“A lot of people didn’t want it.”

Venessa Saunders on a jetty.
Elder Venessa Saunders says traditional owners didn’t feel consulted.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

His partner, elder Venessa Saunders, said the decision did not have the support of the whole community.

“The board was making decisions on behalf of community, not consulting the community. And that’s where the breakdown was,” she says.

Jan Webb, who grew up on what was previously known as “the mission” at Karuah and now lives in Hawks Nest, says she was not told about the meeting.

“It’s very upsetting. When I found out I couldn’t believe it, that it [the land] was sold,” she says.

“My dad was a founding member of the land council. He’s since passed on, but he was passionate and stipulated that we must keep that land forever, for our future generations to enjoy.”

The former chief executive of the land council, Len Roberts, disputes these objections and maintains there was unanimous community support for the land sale.

“Anyone that says that there was opposition is living in mystical land,” he says.

Pelican flying in Hawks Nest
A Pelican flying in Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

The sale price of $600,000 for the beachside plot, while above the market valuation at the time, didn’t take into account the likelihood of the site being re-zoned for housing.

The MidCoast council rezoned the land in April this year and a development application will likely to be lodged next year.

This could see the value of the land climb above $6 million, a massive windfall for the developers.

Prime beachfront land with a small wooden pole in the ground
Locals are very concerned about future development impacting the beachfront.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Ferns near rocks
Some traditional owners are upset the land has been sold to developers.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Trees amongst prime beachfront land
Bushland near the beach at Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Hawks Nest bushland
Many residents want coastal bushland in Hawks Nest to remain undeveloped.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

“I thought the sale price was incredibly cheap … it was like winning the Powerball [for the developers],” says Councillor Peter Epov, who sits on the Mid-Coast Council alongside Len Roberts.

Mr Roberts told Four Corners he’s never had any contact with the Obeid family.

“If I had a whiff that Obeid was involved in selling that land, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

“I’m going to go back to council and I’m going to say that I’ve got grilled by Four Corners, taken by surprise … and that [the] Obeid family [is] supposed involved in this.”

Watch the investigation unfold tonight on Four Corners at 8:30pm on ABC TV.

Setting precedent

As the plans for the Hawks Nest site progress through council, locals fear it could set a precedent for the entire beachfront strip to be opened for development.

“The residents have just really had enough of big developers coming in from out of town with a lot of money, who are never going to live here,” says Shane Andrews, who moved to Hawks Nest 13 years ago with his partner, Kathy Poldmaa.

Shane Andrews and his partner Kathy Poldmaa outside their house.
Shane Andrews and his partner Kathy Poldmaa.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

He says the town needs permanent residents, not more holiday apartments.

“I don’t think it’s going to benefit the community in the long term,” he says.

“Is it going to increase the membership at the surf club? Increase the kids in the local school? Create more jobs in the community for the maintenance guy or the builders or the house painters? I don’t think it is.[

Hawks Nest beach flag
Hawks Nest has uninterrupted beaches.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
The planned development includes 140 apartments directly on the beachfront.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Hawks Nest beach
Some locals want more permanent residents to drive development, rather than holiday accommodation. (Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

“I think it’s purely a money grab from a developer.”

Novelist Di Morrissey, who lives on a property north of Hawks Nest, and also runs a free local newspaper, has been keeping an eye on the development.

She says it has been shrouded in mystery.

“No one really seemed to know what was going on. No one wanted to talk about it. Everybody was evasive.” she says.

“I’ve come up against a few, shall we say rumours, but I haven’t been able to prove where they were connected.”

Novelist Di Morrisey in her home
Novelist Di Morrissey says the development’s been shrouded in mystery.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Aboriginal-owned land

Four Corners can reveal the Obeids, in their pursuit of more coastal property, are strategically targeting Aboriginal-owned land for development.

One of their targets was land around Port Macquarie, a favourite holiday destination of the family and home to Gerard.

Through an intermediary, the Obeids made contact with David Carroll, chief executive of the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council.

In June this year, an approach was made by Jason Irvine, a long-time associate of the Obeid family who was sacked from the Parramatta Eels rugby league club in 2015 for his role in salary cap breaches.

At the time, Mr Carroll didn’t know that he’d also be meeting with Gerard Obeid.

David Carroll sitting in a chair.
David Carroll is chief executive of the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council.(Four Corners: Louie Eroglu ACS)

“When he said ‘Obeid’, I paused for a second,” says Mr Carroll.

“And [I thought], ‘Ah, OK, I will just have to make sure everything we do is above board’.”

Documents reveal Eddie Jr was also invited to the meeting, but didn’t attend.

“They [Gerard Obeid and Jason Irvine] talked about how they’ve worked with other Aboriginal community groups,” says Mr Carroll.

“They said, ‘Look, we’ve done a big deal with the Karuah Land Council [at Hawks Nest]. You should talk to them. They’re all happy with what we’ve done down there.'”

Golf course at Hawks Nest
The development would sit on a prime beachside site next to the golf course at Hawks Nest.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Prior to the meeting, Mr Irvine sent Mr Carroll an email saying “we” are working “on a large development … in Hawks Nest”.

He followed up after the meeting with an email titled “our projects” and included an attachment outlining the Hawks Nest development.

‘Big plans’ 

The Hawks Nest development next to the golf club is just part of what the Obeids have described as their “big plans” for the town.

There is talk of a five-star hotel, retail precinct and more apartments, according to two separate sources who have discussed the plans with an Obeid family member.

To achieve this, more land would need to be purchased.

Hawks Nest has stretches of untouched bushland.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Tree in bushland at Hawks Nest
There’s also talk of a five-star hotel, retail precinct and more apartments.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Residents fear more development will destroy what they love about the village.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

An option being discussed is tapping into the 270 hectares of prime land the Karuah Land Council has been granted at Hawks Nest in recent years. 

A retirement village, on a site owned by the Karuah Land Council, is already in the works.

Four Corners has seen a draft development deed between the same developers and the land council, for the construction of a seniors village near the golf course.

Some locals fear the beachfront apartment development is just the start of big changes for the town.

Hawks Nest residents looking at real estate sign
Hawks Nest is a popular holiday accommodation destination.(Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)
Real estate sign in Hawks Nest
Some locals fear the development is just the start of big changes for the town. (Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

“If this development goes ahead, then it will be the thin end of the wedge of further developments. It’s going to be a nightmare,” says conservationist Ian Morphett.

Karuah woman Jan Webb is devastated by the proposals.

“If I see a development go ahead there, it’ll just break me. It’s not something I agree with. It’s not part of me. It’s not part of my culture.”

People walking along the beach at Hawks Nest
Locals describe the beach at Hawks Nest as ‘pristine’.      (Four Corners: Brendan Esposito)

Credits:

Posted 20h ago, updated 14h ago

#AceNewsDesk report …………….Published: Nov.09: 2021:

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