Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Murray-Darling Basin irrigator has cotton farm asset frozen under Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act - required to pay back $15.7 million

People living along the major rivers on the NSW Far North Coast, particularly those on the Clarence River, will remember that it was irrigators in southern Queensland as well as other areas within the Murray-Darling Basin who made repeated calls to dam and divert one of more of these coastal rivers to fill heir greedy maws with additional water.

The Courier Mail, 25 January 2019, p.27:

Authorities have gone to court to force an award-winning Queensland cotton farmer to pay $16 million to the state’s Public Trustee after a “covert source” told them the accused water fraudster had sold his farm for more than $100 million.

John Douglas Norman, 43, a former Australian Cotton Farmer Of The Year, from Toobeah in southern Queensland, has been charged with defrauding the Murray-Darling Basin water program of $20 million.

The charges are before the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Last week the State Government was granted an urgent court order, forcing Norman to pay $15.7 million to the state’s Public Trustee, after the police received a tip that his company had sold its Queensland cotton and grain farms to a global corporate giant.

Norman must pay the $15.7 million once his deal with the $43 billion Canadian giant Manulife Financial Corporation settles, a Supreme Court judge has ruled. The order was made under the Criminal Proceeds Confiscation Act.

The mega-deal was due to settle last week, court documents state. Until the $15.7 million is paid, Norman’s share of the giant farms, west of Goondiwindi, will remain frozen by the Supreme Court.

The remaining share of the business is owned by his mother Aileen Joan Norman. She has not been charged with any crimes and has not had her assets frozen.

The farms, spread over 18,000ha, are mostly irrigated and run along or close to the NSW-Queensland border, the court heard. They are in “a core crop production region” and with “significant water entitlements”.

The farms and a $2 million riverfront Southport mansion, owned by Norman’s wife Virginia, were raided and searched by police during the probe, court documents state.


The Land, 30 August 2018:

Meanwhile in Queensland, a major alleged fraud in the cotton industry was uncovered by police, with two executives from Queensland's cotton group Norman Farming charged over an an alleged $20 million fraud involving federal funds earmarked for Murray-Darling water savings.

Norman Farming CEO John Norman, 43, and his chief financial officer Steve Evans, 53, were granted bail after appearing in Brisbane Magistrates Court over the alleged fraud.

Police allege the director of the company submitted fraudulent claims, including falsified invoices related to six water-efficiency projects on a property near Goondiwindi, called Healthy Headwater projects.

Police allege the fraud occurred over seven years.

In NSW, the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) has issued a number of charges in the north and south-west of NSW for various alleged water offences.
The NRAR is the new independent water regulator in NSW. It started operations on April 30, after an outcry over alleged water deals in northern NSW exposed by the ABC's Four Corners program….

NRAR said it was pursuing the following cases:

● A Moree company has been charged with water theft offences. It is alleged the company, involved in irrigation, took water from a river while metering equipment was not working, an offence against section 91I(2) of the Water Management Act 2000. It is further alleged they constructed and used a channel to convey water without approval.
● A Carinda man has been charged with using a channel to convey water without approval, an offence against s91B of the Water Management Act 2000.
● Two men have been charged with water theft offences on properties in Walgett and Mallowa.
● A 35-year-old man from Carinda in Northern NSW alleged he provided false and misleading information to water investigators.
● Two men have been charged after they allegedly carried out controlled activities on the Murray River near Corowa.

ABC News, 13 February 2018:

The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is powerless to prevent upstream farmers harvesting overland floodwaters desperately needed to flow through the river system for the benefit of all users, the authority's head has admitted.

It comes as details emerge of massive earthworks built to enable upstream farmers to carry out "floodplain harvesting"…..

Last week, MDBA head Phillip Glyde travelled to Mr Lamey's farm to see first hand what was happening.

"I've learnt a lot," Mr Glyde told 7.30.

"For people like the Lameys, it's very hard to negotiate through and find what's the best way to make sure the problems they're experiencing don't occur."

Although he admitted floodplain harvesting was a serious issue, he acknowledged there was nothing the authority could do in relation to the approval and regulation of irrigation earthworks.

"There's overlapping responsibilities: local, state, different departments," he said.
"Then you've got the Commonwealth, then you've got the Murray Darling Basin Plan."
On Wednesday, the Senate decides whether to pass a proposed reduction in the amount of water Queensland irrigators give back to the ailing Murray Darling River system.

"We don't want the irrigators to be keeping even more water, we want the banks pulled down in Queensland," Mr Lamey said.

"We want the river to run like it should."

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