Sunland wins latest round to keep its witness deal secret

Gold Coast developer Sunland has obtained a court order suppressing details of a secret agreement it struck with a potential witness in a lawsuit over a controversial Dubai property deal.

Gold Coast developer Sunland has obtained a court order suppressing details of a secret agreement it struck with a potential witness in a lawsuit over a controversial Dubai property deal.

A court has heard the secret agreement ensured the company would not pursue the potential witness over the result of a related criminal case in the emirate.

The deed of release bound the former senior legal counsel of state-owned developer Dubai Waterfront, Anthony Brearley, to give evidence in an Australian civil case brought against property executives who Sunland alleges misled it into paying a $14 million fee in the 2007 property deal.

In return, Sunland amended its statement of claim in the case, which is on appeal in Victoria after the company lost at trial.

On Monday night, the Victorian Supreme Court banned Fairfax Media from reporting the contents of the deed.

The injunction against Fairfax and reporter Ben Butler is the latest in a string of cases where powerful business interests have taken legal action to restrain reporting. Five journalists, Steve Pennells of The West Australian and Fairfax journalists Adele Ferguson, Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie and Philip Dorling, face criminal convictions and possible fines or jail terms for maintaining their ethical responsibility to protect the confidentiality of sources.

A sixth journalist, former Fairfax reporter Paddy Manning, recently faced a subpoena from mining magnate Nathan Tinkler seeking confidential documents.

Justice James Judd overturned Sunland's injunction ruling on Tuesday, but Sunland appealed to the Court of Appeal, which on Tuesday night extended the ban until at least Wednesday morning.

The deed, signed by Mr Brearley, Sunland's Dubai head David Brown and chairman Soheil Abedian on January 27, 2010, was mentioned on Monday in the Victorian Court of Appeal by counsel for the executives sued by Sunland, Jack Rush, QC.

Two Australian executives sued by Sunland, former Dubai Waterfront chief executive Matthew Joyce and his schoolfriend Angus Reed, are also being prosecuted on corruption charges in Dubai.

Sunland is challenging Victorian Supreme Court judge Clyde Croft's primary ruling against it, rulings that Mr Brown and Soheil Abedian were unreliable witnesses and a finding that the company brought legal action in Australia for the purpose of shoring up its position with Dubai authorities.

Mr Rush began his defence on Tuesday, telling the court that Mr Brown misled the Dubai prosecutors probing the property deal.

"That's because he was under investigation for bribery, and extracting himself from what was going on," Mr Rush told the court.

On Monday, counsel for Sunland, David O'Callaghan, SC, told the Court of Appeal that Justice Croft had failed to properly evaluate evidence in the case as a whole.

"A serious miscarriage of justice has occurred below that at a bare minimum warrants a retrial," he told the three-judge panel.

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