Four prominent businessmen branded corrupt by the ICAC are set to have the label dropped in a significant about-turn from the watchdog.
Mining magnate Travers Duncan, John McGuigan, Richard Poole and John Atkinson have been fighting to overturn corruption findings made against them following a high-profile probe into a coal venture linked to ex-NSW Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.
The corruption watchdog confirmed on Thursday that it would consent to orders sought by the four men to set aside those corrupt conduct findings.
It is the first concrete consequence to flow from the recent High Court finding that the ICAC had ‘no power’ to pursue a probe into high-ranking prosecutor Margaret Cunneen SC.
That ruling was widely expected to have far-reaching implications for inquiries already completed by the ICAC and those not yet finalised.
After the High Court decision, ex-Cascade Coal directors Mr Duncan, Mr McGuigan, Mr Poole and Mr Atkinson told the ICAC they planned to ask the NSW Court of Appeal to declare the commission had strayed outside its jurisdiction when it found them to be corrupt.
RAMS Home Loans founder John Kinghorn, who was also declared corrupt by former ICAC Commissioner David Ipp, was successful in 2014 in having that finding quashed in the Supreme Court.
The ICAC has now abandoned its bid to have the finding reinstated on appeal.
‘On the basis of its legal advice and in light of the High Court decision, the Commission accepts that it has no arguable basis or option to resist the orders sought,’ the ICAC said in a statement.
Commenting, Mr McGuigan said: ‘ICAC today has made it clear that the findings against the Cascade directors were made without legal foundation and were beyond the power of ICAC.
‘We will be seeking to have the matter listed the before the Court of Appeal as a priority so that court can declare the corrupt findings invalid and make the appropriate orders as to costs.’
A letter sent from the NSW Crown Solicitor’s Office to the men’s lawyers, obtained by AAP, points out that the ICAC’s consent does not necessarily pave the way for the corruption findings to be overturned.
‘The Court of Appeal must be satisfied that it is appropriate to allow the appeals [and] must also be satisfied that it is appropriate to issue declaratory relief,’ the letter says.
But it adds that ‘those should prove relatively straightforward matters’.
The ICAC found former mining minister Ian Macdonald had rigged a 2008 tender process to grant a coal licence over land at Mount Penny in the Bylong Valley, which was owned by Obeid.
Mr Kinghorn, Mr Duncan, Mr Poole, Mr McGuigan and Mr Atkinson were all involved with Cascade Coal, which took over the tenement in 2009.
The ICAC found they acted corruptly by withholding information about the Obeid family’s link to the tenement when they were on the verge of a $500 million dollar takeover by White Energy.