NOT GUILTY: Newcastle businessman Craig Ransley, right, has been cleared over charges that arose from an ICAC inquiry into a mining deal at Jerrys Plains in the Upper Hunter. Newcastle businessman and mining entrepreneur Craig Ransley has been cleared of wrongdoing, over charges stemming from a corruption probe into the grantingof a lucrative coal exploration licence in the Hunter Valley.
The same inquiry by the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) led to the high profile jailing of former NSW Labor Minister Ian Macdonald and union boss John Maitland earlier this year.
But District Court Judge Peter Zahra has exonerated Mr Ransley for his role in the deal, throwing out three charges against him of making a false statement to obtain money.
The charges were laid by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions after the ICAC hit Mr Ransley with a corrupt conduct finding in 2013.
The Newcastle Heraldwas unable to reach Mr Ransley for comment on Tuesday.
Macdonald was found guilty of misconduct in public office, after he corruptly awarded the exploration licence to Doyles Creek Mining Pty Ltd in 2008, without a competitive tender process.
The licence was granted to his political ally John Maitland, who was spruiking plans for a ‘training mine’ at Jerrys Plains.
Deal signed over suckling pig dinnerFormer union boss John Maitland escapes third trial on ICAC chargesIan Macdonald found corrupt by ICAC again‘You’ve made my day’: former Labor minister convictedMaitland – who has been convicted of being an accessory to public misconduct – went on to secure a $15 million windfall when Doyles Creek Mining was sold to listed company Nucoal Resources.
Mr Ransley was a business associate of Maitland’s and a director of Doyles Creek Mining.
During the judge-alone trial, Crown prosecutors alleged Mr Ransley allowed false statements to be published in the company’s two applications to the NSW Department of Primary Industries for the exploration licence in 2008.
In the applications, Doyles Creek Mining claimed it had signed a number of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with community and business partners, which demonstrated broad support for the training mine proposal.
However it has emerged that one of the MOUs – with a Hunter organisation known as Coal Services – never existed at the time either application was made in 2008.
Coal Services is an industry-owned organisation which provides health insurance and training services to the mining industry.
There is also doubt over the existence of an MOU between Doyles Creek Mining and the Hunter Region SLSA Helicopter Rescue Service, better known as the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
Although the organisation’s board voted in favour of entering into the MOU, a signed copy of the document has never been located.
But in a verdict handed down on Monday, Judge Zahra found that it had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Ransley was at fault for any reference in either of the applications to documents that did not exist.
He said that “in assessing the criminal culpability” of Mr Ransley, it was importantthat the charges only related to “limited alleged criminal conduct” in the context of the broader coal deal.
“It must be kept in mind that the accused is not charged with the offences for which the former Minister Mr Macdonald and Mr Maitland were tried and convicted,” he said.
“The evidence may support a conclusion that the accused was aware that Mr Maitland was acting with the Minister Mr Macdonald to circumvent the proper processes in the application for an exploration licence … and he may have been aware that Mr Maitland and Mr Macdonald were acting corruptly.”
But Judge Zahra found that while Mr Ransley had a “strong motive to act dishonestly” due to the financial returns that could be achieved through the coal mine, that did not prove that he knew any of the statements published in the applications were false.
The first application – for consent to apply for a mining exploration licence – was made in March, 2008.
Doyles Creek Mining was then given the green light to lodge its formal application with the department, which it did seven months later in October.
Just before the first application was lodged, the reference to an MOU with Coal Services was removed from a cover letter at the request of Mr Maitland.
However subsequent references in the body of the application were never deleted. They remained in an identical submission lodged in October.
Mr Ransley was on business overseas at the time the first application was lodged, and his lawyers argued he was unable to review the final version of the document on his Blackberry.
Judge Zahra could not determine whythe reference to the Coal Services MOU ended up in the application, but said the evidence did not show that Mr Ransley had any hand in it.
The judge found the negotiations over and signing of both MOUs appeared to be the domain of Mr Maitland.
This was although Mr Ransley was heavily involved in putting together the applications, Judge Zahra found.
“Please ensure you go over this with a fine tooth comb,” Mr Ransley wrote in one email to his colleagues.
“Remember, the department will pull the submission to pieces and try and test our assumptions and operation validity. Otherwise bloody good job by all.”
The general manager of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, Richard Jones, was responsible for signing the MOU on his organisation’s behalf.
He told the court if the document hadn’t been signed it was an “oversight” andit was “very likely” he communicated to Mr Maitland the MOU was in place.
“The management of the helicopter acted in such a way that represented to others that such a signed MOU existed,” Judge Zahra found.
It was found the time lapse from when the mine deal occurred to when the charges were laidaffected the quality of evidence from witnesses.
“Had the allegations been brought to light and the prosecution commenced much sooner, it would be expected that the memory of witnesses for details of events would have been clearer,” Judge Zahrasaid.