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‘Sale of the century’: The $1 deal and the mayor who knew nothing

The fact that Asfour is an acquaintance of Wehbe, a friend of Wally’s brother Rehme, and held his wedding at the Bellevue with Eddie Obeid in attendance, has recently been used against him.

Asfour was picked by NSW Labor leader Chris Minns as the candidate for NSW’s upper house in the March election, but in September Bankstown MP Tania Mihailuk, who has a longstanding feud with Asfour, stood up in parliament to link Asfour with Obeid and to question the decision to place him in parliament.

Khal Asfour, Tania Mihailuk and Eddie Obeid.Credit:SMH

She was dismissed from the Labor front bench by Minns after her speech and then left the party. The Coalition has seized on the issue and has indicated it will use its numbers to conduct a parliamentary inquiry – similar to the one Labor has launched into the nomination of former Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro to a New York trade job – into the behavior of Canterbury Bankstown Council during Asfour’s time as mayor. The investigation is likely to begin in December and last through February. The election is in March.

Asfour’s position is that despite being partially elected on a platform across from “25-storey buildings in Bankstown”, he was completely uninvolved in the planning process behind the city’s new master plan, attending no briefings and unaware from what the plan entailed until he launched it last year on March 21.

“I have no relationship with any member of the Obeid family,” Asfour said. Eddie Obeid attended his wedding at the urging of Mihailuk, who then sought Obeid’s help to get pre-selected for the Bankstown seat, Asfour said.

“The Wehbe family is quite a big family,” he said. “If you’re talking about Wally, he’s a local businessman who supports local community organizations. He is also the owner of an Arabic newspaper and my relationship is professional. With regard to Rehme, he is a member of the Labor Party and I consider him a friend that I come across on occasions or catch up from time to time. [with] for a cup of coffee.”

Wally Wehbe Has Acquired A Prime Piece Of Real Estate In Bankstown For $1.

Wally Wehbe has acquired a prime piece of real estate in Bankstown for $1.Credit:Sam Mooy

The Herald sent Wehbe a list of questions earlier this week and approached him outside his home on Friday. He declined to comment.

Asfour is on the board of the local Bankstown RSL club, which is also slated for possible redevelopment under the scheme, and said this was the reason he was absent from all briefings and votes during the planning process. To clear his name after Mihailuk’s allegations, he has referred himself to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Supporting his man, Minns says this week that Asfour’s Obeid connection was historic and that he has seen no evidence of misconduct by the mayor.

The struggle is damaging to Labour, and not just because it revives the spirit of Obeid. The Canterbury Bankstown council area covers the entire state seat of East Hills, which is held by a narrow margin by the Liberals and which both sides want to win in the March election.

Members of the Asfour camp are confident that an internal council inquiry that was held after Mihailuk’s speech in parliament, which will be reviewed by Arthur Moses SC when completed, will clear the mayor when it is released in the coming weeks. But given that the council is effectively examining itself, Asfour’s critics are unlikely to be satisfied with a finding in his favour.

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And the critics are circling. In recent weeks, Asfour has been engulfed in a media frenzy and has been evicted for failing to declare the purchase of an apartment in Melbourne through a trust he co-owns with his wife, and for charging the taxpayer for a part of an MBA course he was taking, a scheme that a fellow mayor says doesn’t “pass the pub test.” Asfour said he had followed disclosure rules and would cooperate with an investigation into his education costs.

The Council also asked questions about transparency. In 2019, a press release stated that councilors would pay their own travel expenses when traveling to America. However, they only paid for airfare and other expenses — worth nearly $150,000 — were picked up by taxpayers.

It also had to be urged by the Information and Privacy Commission to comply with laws requiring a register of councilors’ financial interests to be published online. The commission found that its previous policy of requiring people who wanted the information to go to city hall during office hours and fill out a request “does not comply with … the GIPA law,” according to documents obtained by the Herald. The Council published the information at the end of last month.

When the Coalition Government decided in 2014 to include the Sydenham to Bankstown railway line in the city’s new underground link, it also unveiled plans for major developments – including more than 35,000 apartments, with heights of up to 25 storeys – along that corridor, a stretch of the inner southwest, which is only 30 minutes from the CBD but still dominated by single-family homes on grassy blocks.

With every stroke of the pen on the rezoning map, developers and landowners can earn millions. That authority was initially supposed to lie with the NSW Department of Planning, but was transferred to councils in 2018.

Canterbury Bankstown City Council’s private record of meetings between developers or their representatives who spoke to council staff during the planning process, obtained by the Heralddoes not mention the Bellevue site or anyone related to it.

The Herald spoke to current and former planning staff involved in preparing the city’s master plan about why the Bellevue site was chosen for a particularly tall tower.

They replied that the planned new tube station – with regular rapid trains to and from central Sydney – tended to reorient Bankstown’s CBD about 150m to the east, which coincidentally benefited the Wehbe site.

The Bellevue Site Was Chosen For Its Particularly Tall Tower.

The Bellevue site was chosen for its particularly tall tower.Credit:Walter Peters

A requirement for commercial space in a future building could mean it wasn’t the most profitable development site in Bankstown, they said.

Wehbe did not respond to questions put to him by the Herald.

The function center was one of many wealth-creating ventures the enterprising Wehbe family were exploring when they founded the company that bought the site. There was a plan, also hatched with Obeid, to get involved in the lucrative live sheep trade with Syria. More investment in real estate, petroleum and child care centers followed.

An artist’s impression of what the proposed 25-story developments would look like in Bankstown.

Wally Wehbe’s name appeared in the early 1990s as the operator of a “consulate” in Bankstown for a fictional Caribbean nation called New Utopia – a proposed tax haven that would be created by an eccentric American millionaire near the Cayman Islands who could view people as disgraced people. to welcome. businessman Christopher Skase. It never got off the ground.

There were hiccups along the way, like when a son, Michael Wehbe, was caught by an undercover cop with a load of stolen cell phones in the trunk of a Mercedes-Benz.

But the family’s fortune gradually increased. Wally Wehbe developed a successful media company and it helped him bring politicians and businessmen to justice. The guest list for a 2018 event hosted by his media group in Pyrmont included Minns and a dozen other prominent state and federal MPs.

Wehbe has been a donor to both the Labor and Liberal parties. The Wehbe Group’s headquarters are located directly across the street from Canterbury-Bankstown Town Hall, and Wehbe is also listed as the owner of an office building next door that houses the election office of Federal Labor MP Jason Clare.

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The Bellevue site has been around during the family’s rise, though it has been hit by arson three times over the years, with unknown motives, and often failed to make a profit as a function center.

The then Bankstown Council attempted to liquidate the Bellevue in 1994 over unpaid rates and the NAB bank had pressured the pair over the company’s large debts. But the two businessmen were able to stave off the bank by selling the parking lot next to the Bellevue lot. Bank records showed that the address of the purchasing company “for the care of” E. Obeid was in Hunters Hill, the Herald reported at the time.

Another company, Dakmint, approached NAB with an offer to buy off Bellevue company debt for $2.1 million. The bank accepted and wrote off $2.5 million. Further bank documents showed that Dakmint’s phone number was Obeid’s direct line at the parliament building.

Cars Line Up For Cheap Gas At Kemps Creek In 1986.

Cars line up for cheap gas at Kemps Creek in 1986.

In 1993, Eddie Obeid’s son, Paul, acquired his father’s share of the company for $1. In 2017, Paul transferred his shares to Hassim Achie for $1. In 2018, Achie sold them to Wehbe, also for $1, making Wehbe the sole owner. Mihailuk described this in parliament as “the sale of the century”.

Today part of the The Wehbe family is based in a country house in Illawong, in the southwest of the city, with a beautiful view over the Georges River towards Botany Bay.

It’s a long way from the gas station at Kemps Creek. Unknown to customers who filled their tanks for 1¢ in 1986, Wehbe had gone to court a month earlier for taking delivery of fuel tankers stolen from the Banksmeadow terminal.

The trial judge stated that he was free to rule that “Mr Wehbe is dishonest or otherwise not of good character”. But a star witness – the truck driver who delivered the stolen fuel – refused to testify. Wehbe was acquitted.

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