Bob Hawke's partner on trial

Michael McKenna and Matthew Clayfield | The Australian | August 09, 2008 12:00AM

FORMER prime minister Bob Hawke last month set up a new company to wheel and deal in the Middle East with an Arab business partner facing trial over the alleged drugging and indecent assault of a woman at his luxury Sydney home.

Mr Hawke and Palestinian-born Safwat Abdel-Hady, 47, are directors and shareholders with a Bahrain businessman in Sydney-based Australian Gulf Mineral Resources Corporation, with plans to facilitate exploration ventures between companies in Australia and the Gulf region, where Mr Abdel-Hady is understood to have close ties with oil sheiks and members of various royal families.

Mr Abdel-Hady, a Maserati-driving executive who divides his time between the Middle East and Sydney, has been committed to stand trial later this year on charges he allegedly drugged a couple with sleeping pills and then indecently assaulted the woman after a night drinking champagne and snorting cocaine.

Mr Hawke yesterday said he was "stunned" to learn from The Weekend Australian that his business partner was facing charges. "It has come as absolute news to me, I obviously knew nothing about it whatsoever," Mr Hawke said.

My view must be that the man is innocent until proved guilty, I can do no more than that. He has some contacts in the Middle East and we have done some work, but nothing substantial."

The Australian Gulf Mineral Resources Corporation is the second entity jointly set up by Mr Hawke, 79, and Mr Abdel-Hady, with a two-year-old company, International Fuel Corporation, currently being wound up after a failed bid to pave the way for Woodside Petroleum to expand operations in the Gulf.

Little is known publicly about Mr Abdel-Hady, chairman of investment group Montana Pacific, who boasts on its website that he has overseen major oil, energy and aircraft deals over a 20-year executive career.

Mr Hawke's latest foray into the corporate world follows his disastrous 2004 involvement in an Australian offshoot company of purported Silicon Valley entrepreneur Moses Joseph, who was in fact bankrupt.

The Japanese-born, US-based Mr Joseph was arrested in California in 2005 and charged with 11 counts of fraud, theft and perjury amid allegations he stole $9 million in a series of elaborate scams between 2001 and 2005.

There was never any suggestion Mr Hawke had any knowledge or benefited from any of the activities that led to Mr Joseph's arrest.

But it wasn't the first time Mr Hawke, who left politics in 1991 after being ousted as prime minister by Paul Keating, had a brush with controversy in his business career.

In 1997, it emerged that Vanuatu betting agency VITAB, in which Mr Hawke had an 11 per cent shareholding, was involved in fraudulent dealings with ACTTAB.

An inquiry, set up by the ACT government, found Mr Hawke had had no knowledge of the deception and that his role was simply to appear at media promotions to "lend the venture respectability".

Company and court documents, obtained or viewed by The Weekend Australian, show that Mr Hawke and Mr Abdel-Hady set up the new company on July 30 -- two months after the Palestinian was committed to stand trial.

On September 29, the NSW District Court will set a date for his trial.

Mr Abdel-Hady's Sydney solicitor, Patrick Conaghan, said the businessman, who is believed to be overseas, had pleaded not guilty to the charges and he could not comment further.

According to court documents, Mr Abdel-Hady is facing one count of assault with act of indecency and two counts of use of chloroform or other over-powering drug to commit or assist to commit an indictable offence on November 30, 2006.

It is alleged that Mr Abdel-Hady was drinking at the since-closed Barons Bar in Kings Cross, when he met the two alleged victims, a Melbourne couple, who were on a working holiday in Sydney.

According to the court documents, Mr Abdel-Hady bought several bottles of Moet champagne and shared them with the couple and their friends.

The couple's friends left at 2am and about 4am, Mr Abdel-Hady allegedly invited the pair back to his home in Mosman, on Sydney's north shore. It is alleged by the couple that Mr Abdel-Hady "took an unusually long time to make" them a drink.

After sunrise, the woman told police she began to "feel groggy and disorientated" and the male later recalled "having double vision and his memory becoming hazy".

The woman allegedly told police that her last memory was of lying on a bed with Mr Abdel-Hady on one side and her partner on the other side. The woman told police she woke about 10am and that she became aware of "a hand under my underwear stroking my vagina".

She then ran out of the room and found her partner asleep in another bedroom.

A taxi was called and the couple underwent sexual assault examinations that morning before making a complaint to police.

On January 29 last year, tests on blood taken from the couple showed traces of zolpidem -- a medication used to treat insomnia and the key ingredient in a drug called Stilnox.

Mr Abdel-Hady was arrested outside his home on December 1, 2006, and two blister packets of Stilnox were allegedly found on his bedside table. According to police, four tablets were missing from one of the blister packets.

Mr Abdel-Hady "strongly denied" the couple's allegations to police. "I have not touched that lady," he told police. "I mean, it sounds like, like a set-up."

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