The call that all dread

Michael Evans plunges into a breathtaking moment.

Michael Evans plunges into a breathtaking moment.

THERE are moments in life that make leading a $14 billion takeover seem irrelevant - even if there is $90 million in fees on offer.

On Friday afternoon, Goldman Sachs JBWere investment banking kahuna Alastair Lucas was preparing for an afternoon meeting on BG's takeover of Origin Energy when he took a nightmare phone call.

Lucas's two daughters, Sarah, 23, and Olivia, 19, were travelling in business class returning from holiday on the Qantas flight from London to Melbourne that was forced to make an emergency landing in Manila.

"What I know is that there was a very loud bang on the plane, it depressurised and there were papers flying everywhere. It went into a steep dive," Lucas told CBD. "Everyone's OK.

"From what I can gather it was quite dramatic. There's a jagged hole in the side of the plane, there's been a catastrophic failure in the fuselage."

His relief was obvious.

"I've got a BG call shortly so I've got to focus on that. It's more dramatic to be involved in an emergency landing with your daughters than to have your bidders' statement in the Takeovers Panel."

Last man goes

That deafening silence emanating from the big broking houses is the sound of their analysts expressing opinions on the BHP battle for Rio Tinto. For months, ABN Amro's Warren Edney has been the go-to man for a neutral comment on the latest developments on the deal, given BHP and Rio have tied up pretty much every house on the planet for various aspects of the deal. Now the last voice has been muffled. We're told ABN has been signed up to Rio and Edney has had to lay down his pen.

Knockback days

It's fair to say Greg Paramor's not having a great run. Last week, the Mirvac boss cut his profit outlook and the developer's distributions to unit holders and 'fessed the concern will be "sticking to our knitting".

Sadly, there's not great news on the home front either. And we're not just talking about that $600 fine he paid to Pittwater Council a while back after an arborist he hired took to a defenceless Moreton Bay fig at his Palm Beach shack. Sadly, council has also knocked back Paramor's plans to knock down his three-bedroom beach-and-ocean view pile that he bought for $5.5 million in 2005.

Paramor simply wanted to spend $1.3 million building a new three-bedroom, two-level abode with extensive landscaping. Plans included "maintaining the existing significant tree species".

Presumably that ol' Moreton Bay fig that garnered the arborist's affections wasn't considered overly significant.

A few neighbours took interest in the development, including one nearby property that is owned by interests linked to Julien Playoust, the AEH Group boss and Tattersall's gazillionaire. (Apparently, they requested the shack use non-glare material for roofing. Must be the downside of living on the crystal-blue waters of Palm Beach.) Council, however, had greater concerns, including the loss of a "large degree" of the view of Palm Beach from the public roadway and off to the "iconic" Barrenjoey Lighthouse.

It was also worried Paramor wanted to install two kitchens raising concerns the dwelling may be adapted "to be used as two separate occupancies", which isn't allowed. A council inspector said the development could go ahead if a long list of conditions were met. Odd then, that the council's general manager rejected the application outright. We can only wonder if it had anything to do with the earlier incident involving a tree.

Off with his head

If some tax schemes unfolding before the US Senate courtesy of Heinrich Kieber and the documents he pinched from the secretive LGT bank in Liechtenstein, sound like something out of a spy novel, then Friday's hearing had an air of Alice In Wonderland about it. After days of anticipation, the hearing was over in a blink after all the witnesses summoned to explain their involvement with LGT chose to take the fifth and hold their tongue.

But outside the hearing, there was plenty of drama.

The Lowys' US lawyer, Robert Bennett, who made his name defending Bill Clinton during the inquiry into the Monica Lewinsky affair, showed he was worth every cent.

Rule one: When your client is in a tight corner, create a new issue. In this case it was the "unfair" comment by one senator who accused Peter Lowy of scarpering to Australia to avoid service. "Absolutely false," Mr Bennett declared.

As for the substantive - and one might say much more serious - allegation that the Lowy family has engaged in a complicated scheme to avoid paying tax, it seemed almost trivial by comparison.

"I have advised Mr Lowy to reserve his constitutional rights because it should be obvious to you, this report was already written. There was no real interest in talking to Mr Lowy," Mr Bennett said. "I am reminded of that excellent book by Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland. You will recall the Red Queen," he said. "There's a young fellow coming up because he stole the queen's tarts. The queen says: I certainly want to give him a trial. But let's have the sentencing first."

Like Alice through the looking glass, it seems that little problems can be made to seem big and big problems can become much smaller, thanks to the advocacy skills of Mr Bennett.


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