Socialite may face jail over insider trading charges

THE Sydney socialite Oliver Peter Curtis was charged on Tuesday with conspiracy to commit insider trading, two years after his former best friend John Hartman pleaded guilty to insider trading offences that led to a prison sentence.
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The charges relate to an alleged agreement between the two where Mr Curtis allegedly traded on the basis of inside information Hartman possessed about the trading intentions of his employer, Orion Asset Management.

According to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, in return for providing the insider information, it is alleged Mr Curtis provided Hartman with a share of the profits in the form of cash and ”by using the funds to purchase items for Mr Hartman”.

Mr Curtis is the son of the Sydney businessman Nick Curtis, a founder of Sino Resources and the executive chairman of the rare earths miner Lynas Corp.

Mr Curtis works with his father at a corporate advisory firm, Riverstone Advisory.

Hartman, the son of the prominent Sydney obstetrician Keith Hartman, was sentenced to three years’ jail after pleading guilty to related, and unrelated, insider trading offences in April 2010.

Hartman, who had previously enjoyed luxury cars and gambling trips to Las Vegas, was sent to jail in a form of protective custody for volunteering to give evidence against Mr Curtis.

ASIC alleges that Mr Curtis traded on 45 separate occasions between May 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008, making a total profit of $1 million.

According to a release from ASIC on Tuesday, Mr Curtis was granted bail ”on a number of conditions” and the matter will return to court on March 26.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of five years’ jail.

In sentencing Hartman, Justice Peter McClellan wrote plainly about Mr Curtis’s involvement in receiving inside information, then trading in a financial product called contracts for difference.

”[Hartman] communicated this inside information for the purpose of Mr Curtis using the information to acquire and thereafter dispose of … CFDs [contracts for difference],” Justice McClellan wrote.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

McGuigan negotiated with Moses Obeid

THE wealthy businessman John McGuigan has admitted personally negotiating with Moses Obeid, the son of the former Labor MP Eddie Obeid, who wanted a sizeable stake in his coal company.
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Giving evidence at the Independent Commission against Corruption, Mr McGuigan said that in late May 2009, he was introduced to Moses Obeid by Greg Jones, a close associate of then mining minister Ian Macdonald.

At that time the government was still considering which companies would win the right to explore for coal in 11 areas the government was opening up for mining.

The commission has heard that the Obeids used inside information allegedly provided to them by Mr Macdonald to acquire key properties in the Bylong Valley which was one of the areas covered by the new exploration licences.

Mr McGuigan, the managing director of Cascade Coal, said Moses Obeid initially wanted a 30 per cent share of Cascade Coal and that he was ”very focused on extracting value” for their three farms in the Bylong Valley. Mr McGuigan said that he did not want the Obeids to be joint venture partners but that they were adamant that access to the properties would be given in return for a stake in Cascade. In the end 25 per cent was agreed upon. The Obeids later negotiated a $60 million payout for this stake. To date they have received $30 million.

Several weeks after this initial meeting Cascade was announced as the winning tender for the Mount Penny licence.

Mr McGuigan also agreed that a highly confidential document about the government’s proposed mining areas was most likely provided to him by the mining magnate Travers Duncan, who was also an investor in Cascade Coal.

The inquiry has heard that Mr Duncan was on friendly terms with Mr Macdonald and the pair often dined together.

Mr McGuigan agreed that the knowledge the Obeids were involved in Cascade Coal would have an impact on any attempt to raise money for a mine at a later date. However, he maintained confidence that the Liberal government would not cancel Cascade’s licence. ”My view was and continues to be that the exploration licence, the rights, that we currently have was validly granted and is not and cannot be in question,” he said.

Commissioner David Ipp then pointed out that the mining minister has an unfettered discretion as to whether to grant a mining lease. At present Cascade has a licence to explore, not to mine.

In other evidence the Obeids’ former farm manager Barry Taylor said, ”I only seen Old Eddie three or four times,” in the two years to March 2010, when he was running their property Cherrydale Park at Bylong.

Mr Obeid snr made a surprise appearance at the inquiry on Tuesday. He and his solicitor watched a live feed of the hearing from a room in the ICAC complex. Members of the public also present said Mr Obeid nodded or shook his head and on occasions muttered what he thought the correct answer was to questions being asked of various witnesses.

Mr Obeid, his wife Judith and son Moses are due in the witness box on Thursday.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Government internet snooping takes more than it gives, says web founder

THE founder of the world wide web has warned of the dangers posed by governments intent on increasing the monitoring and filtering of the online activity of their citizens.
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Sir Tim Berners-Lee said while it was important to fight organised crime and for a state to defend itself against cyber attack, there were enormous negatives associated with excessive government oversight of the internet.

”The whole thing seems to me fraught with massive dangers and I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said in Sydney on Tuesday in reply to a question about the Australian government’s data retention plan.

Sir Tim was speaking at the launch of the CSIRO’s $40 million Digital Productivity and Services Flagship, a research division focused on facilitating the growth of the digital economy and exploiting the full potential of the National Broadband Network.

The data retention proposal is part of the federal government’s overhaul of national security measures and would require internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunication carriers to store the internet history of all Australians for at least two years.

”That information is so dangerous, you have to think of it as dynamite,” he said. Instead of nabbing ”serious criminals”, such a process would only snare people who had taken out too many library books.

While it was possible to set up a watchdog, he was not yet aware of any government that had successfully introduced a foolproof system of checks and balances.

Sir Tim, in Australia for the first time in 15 years, also raised a red flag about web filtering. ”I have a worry about a government that is liable to take too much control; maybe to spy, maybe to block. So beware of a government that has the ability to control what you see on the web.”

The retention plan, which would have required every Australian ISP to block overseas-hosted ”refused classification” material as identified by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, was shelved in November after several years of acrimonious debate.

Sir Tim invented the world wide web while working in Europe in 1989. He is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium, which oversees the web’s continued development, and holds a senior research position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Communication Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, architect of a controversial mandatory internet filtering plan, also spoke at the launch.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Raise Warragamba, says dam expert

A family enjoying the view of the dam from a platform at the Warragamba Dam Visitor Centre.A MAJOR flood of the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley in western Sydney would be more devastating than the Brisbane floods of 2011 and was just as likely to occur, said an expert witness to the Queensland government’s post-flood inquiry.
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The potential for a catastrophic flood in Sydney’s west was placed on the agenda last year by the O’Farrell government’s adviser Infrastructure NSW, which suggested raising the level of Warragamba Dam to prevent a future disaster.

And while the present rainfall in parts of NSW and Queensland is not expected to cause large problems in Sydney, the renewed focus on flood mitigation has heightened concern about what would happen if rain concentrated in the city’s west.

”There is huge flood risk – it is probably greater than Brisbane,” said a dam expert, Mark Babister, a witness in the Queensland Flood Commission’s inquiry into the 2011 Brisbane flood.

”It probably would impact on more people, homes and small businesses,” Mr Babister, the managing director of WMAwater, said. ”But it wouldn’t have some of the economic consequences of shutting down a CBD.”

The most common suggestion to mitigate the risk of flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean area is to raise the height of the wall at Warragamba Dam.

Lifting the height of the dam wall by 23 metres, which was suggested in a 1995 environmental impact study, would lower the flood level at Windsor Bridge by about five metres in the event of a one-in-200-year flood.

But in 1995 the Carr government instead decided to manage flood risk in western Sydney by upgrading roads to make evacuation easier as well as making the dam safer by building a spillway to release excess water.

Infrastructure NSW, in its report to the government last year, slammed this decision.

It said the choice of managing the ”issue through evacuation and planning has had either limited impact or benefit, or has been completely inadequate in reducing the social and economic impacts of flooding in the HNV [Hawkesbury Nepean Valley]”.

Another expert, Drew Bewsher, said the renewed focus on water management represented a opportunity to look at raising the dam wall again.

”You can have two or three decades without much flooding and people forget about flooding altogether,” Mr Bewsher said. ”Now is the time to do something.”

The topography of the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley makes it uniquely susceptible to flooding, even if there has not been a major event since 1990.

The O’Farrell government has said it would conduct a ”strategic review” of mitigation options for the area, but would not put a time on the review.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.