Eddie Obeid appeared at his conspiracy trial sideways and upside down on Monday, before he froze altogether.
“We’ve lost Mr Obeid,” Justice Elizabeth Fullerton observed, before sending a solicitor off to see what was going on.
It was five months in limbo, but when a long-running conspiracy trial involving former NSW Labor minister Mr Obeid, his son Moses, and another former Labor minister Ian MacDonald resumed this week, it made up for lost time.
References to Bart Cummings, Kerry Packer and even cooking goats made for a colourful week in the NSW Supreme Court.
Eddie Obeid, 76, Moses Obeid, 51, and Mr Macdonald, 71, are accused of conspiring about a coal licence for the Obeid family farm Cherrydale Park near Mudgee when Mr Macdonald was resources minister from 2007-2009.
The crown case is that the Obeid family planned to sell the farm for four times its purchase price and have a secret stake in a company that won the tender to mine coal on the property.
The three men on trial deny the allegations, describing them as “nonsense”, “reconstructed fiction” and “a reductionist attempt to rewrite history”.
With more than 50 witnesses, the trial is now focusing on evidence about properties next door to Cherrydale Park, being purchased by friends and contacts of the Obeid family.
On Monday, Eddie Obeid appeared from the farm via audio-visual link sideways and upside down before the screen froze.
When the screen came back, Mr Obeid, who was wearing a casual zip up jacket, had considerable trouble turning off his mute button.
The judge warned that he might have to come to court in person if the problem persisted.
“I’m not entirely content with this for obvious reasons,” Justice Fullerton sighed.
Dressed more formally in a suit and tie, Moses Obeid sat in the public gallery writing notes on his mobile phone and Mr Macdonald sat on the other side of the court carefully listening to proceedings.
All three men are on bail.
The mute button dominated again on Tuesday, but this time because it was not switched on, and the court heard Eddie Obeid making comments during the evidence of crown witness Peter Fitzhenry.
The judge was not impressed.
“I can hear him. I shouldn’t have to disrupt proceedings to accommodate him,” she snapped.
Peter Fitzhenry told the court that when he and his wife Nicki lived next door to Moses and Nicole Obeid at Elizabeth Bay in Sydney around 2005, Moses mentioned that his father Eddie was looking to buy a rural retreat where he could “cook goats and hang around”.
Mr Fitzhenry said Moses later revealed the family purchased Cherrydale Park around 2007, and it was previously owned by media mogul Kerry Packer’s accountant.
The witness described Moses as a “delightful” neighbour and said the two families had dinner together several times a week and left the fence down between their houses so their children could play.
The court heard racehorse trainer Bart Cummings, who was “good for a tip”, lived nearby and visitors to Moses Obeid’s house included his father Eddie, Mr Macdonald and former Labor minister Joe Tripodi.
Mr Fitzhenry said Moses told him the family hoped to make a “life changing” $100 million from Cherrydale Park because there was coal under it.
He said Moses encouraged him to buy the farm next door for $3 million and he was led to believe the Obeid’s would pay the mortgage.
“I understood the whole thing and I did not want any part in it,” Mr Fitzhenry told the court.
Eddie Obeid’s technical issues continued during evidence from a string of real estate agents and businesspeople.
By yesterday, Justice Fullerton observed that he was more visible on the screen after closing a curtain in his farmhouse and turning a light on.
She noted that she was not happy with the glitches and said she would review the arrangement next week.
The trial will continue until November with closing submissions in January 2021 and Justice Fullerton’s decision sometime after that.