Monkey business: earth shifts at News

Like the four worlds depicted in the opening titles of cult Japanese TV show Monkey, the terrain of Uncle Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has formed again and yet again as endless aeons wheeled and passed.

Like the four worlds depicted in the opening titles of cult Japanese TV show Monkey, the terrain of Uncle Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has formed again and yet again as endless aeons wheeled and passed.

In the latest tectonic shift gripping the press lord's global empire, Australian-born former Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson has been elevated to head the publishing arm, which is to be split off into a separately listed company.

It's a move that will no doubt cause pilgrims to flood to News Corp's very own India, New York, to receive the latest holy scrolls containing the wisdom of Fox.

Beating the human tide is Eureka Report publisher and ABC TV finance guru Alan Kohler, who CBD hears is already in New York to meet with Guru Thomson. Kohler's kingdom was folded into Rupert's empire in June, netting him and business partners including Eric Beecher, Mark Carnegie and John Wylie $30 million in cash.

Values cascade up

Witnesses have been trudging through a courtroom to give evidence at at a NSW corruption hearing that has Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid under the microscope.

But while all eyes at the hearing have been on allegedly dodgy dealings over a related party transaction where Cascade Coal tried to flog its $1 million coal exploration licence to White Energy for the bargain price of $500 million, another interesting coal deal has surfaced involving the same folk.

In mid-April 2010, White Energy was being offered the chance to snap up South Australian Coal, owned by Brian Flannery, Travers Duncan, John Atkinson, John Kinghorn and John McGuigan, who were also on the White board.

Other investors in SA Coal included investment banker Richard Poole, the Cascade director who allegedly disguised the payment of $30 million to the family of ALP powerbroker Obeid.

The corruption inquiry has heard the valuation of SA Coal early in 2010 was $40 million, but White paid at least double that later in the year.

"It shot up in value, too," quipped counsel assisting the ICAC inquiry.

Broker gets heroic

Steer clear of ICAP's Sydney office on Wednesday if you have a fear of celebrities. A red carpet full of famous types is descending on the broker's office for its annual fund-raising shindig, now in its 20th year.

Faces including Ian "Dicko" Dickson, former Mrs Russell Crowe Danielle Spencer and Rose Tattoo singer Angry Anderson will mingle with staff dressed as clowns, superheroes and members of Kiss.

It sounds like hell but CBD is assured it's for good causes. ICAP's revenues and broker's commissions on the day are donated to charity - it raised more than $20 million worldwide last year.

Brown to be grilled

Real estate agent Justin Brown is to be grilled under oath over the collapse of former friend Lance Hodgkinson's property empire after losing a bid to be excused from a public examination.

Liquidator Ozem Kassem of Cor Cordis, examining the collapse of Hodgkinson's Bluestone Property Services, summoned Brown, the chairman of CBRE Residential, to give evidence about $600,000 owed to Bluestone by Brown's company, First Equilibrium.

The debt arises out of a previous court case in which Brown had tried to hold Hodgkinson to a deal thrashed out at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Paddington in 2005.

Under the deal, Hodgkinson and his business partner Daniel Hausman were to buy Brown out of developments they were working on together, including the Chevron nightclub site in Melbourne.

Sadly, the NSW courts held the one-page document signed on the day wasn't legally enforceable, and ordered First Equilibrium to pay Bluestone $600,000.

Brown told the Supreme Court it would be wrong to haul him into the witness box because he had already given evidence about the collapse, and said if there was to be an examination, it should be limited to his personal financial affairs.

Last Tuesday, in the NSW Supreme Court, Justice Richard White dismissed Brown's application and awarded costs against him.

Better luck in the courts for former health minister Michael Wooldridge, Victorian Liberal Party heavyweight Peter Clarke and other directors of Australian Property Custodian Holdings, which ran the failed Prime Trust retirement village group.

On Tuesday, the Victorian Supreme Court ruled the directors did not have to file full defences against an action brought by the company's receiver if doing so would tend to expose them to a civil penalty.

This is because the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is running just such a civil penalty case in the Federal Court over the same $33 million transaction that is at issue in the Supreme Court.

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bbutler@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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