Amidst growing speculation that the recent $850 million sale of NSW Lotteries to Tatts Group was illegal, the lawyers who acted for the NSW Government on the sale are keeping quiet.
Lawyers Weekly sought comment from Gilbert + Tobin this morning on the current state of the transaction, though was informed that the issue is "something on which the firm would prefer not to comment at this stage".
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly soon after the completion of the sale in early March, however, Gilbert + Tobin partner Bryan Pointon described the transaction as highly unusual.
"Globally, this is a very unique transaction and we had to look quite broadly for lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions," he said.
"There were really no local precedents for what was happening. It has been a pretty ground-breaking deal."
Pointon also described the transaction as being markedly different from an everyday sale of assets.
Controversy in relation to the legality or otherwise of the high-profile sale has been mounting this week, following claims by unsuccessful bidders that they were told unclaimed prizes - valued at approximately $200 million - would not form part of the sale assets.
Following the sale, Tatts Group revealed that access to the unclaimed prizes was actually included in the contract for sale, and it is widely speculated that this caused Tatts Group to raise their original bid of $700 million - which was only the third highest bid - to the eventual successful bid of $850 million.
According to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, two anonymous partners from Sydney law firms have branded the sale illegal due to a clause in the legislation that deems all unclaimed prizes must go to a consolidated state fund.
As such, the NSW Lotteries Act would have to be amended in order to validate the clause which allows Tatts Group access to the money.
A spokesman for NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald today as saying, "The expert legal advice provided to NSW Treasury and the NSW Government is that no legislation needs to be changed. The Government has been advised that the Minister for Gaming and the Treasurer retain a discretion in relation to unclaimed prizes under the act."
Claims as to the potential illegality of the deal - as well as allegations that Tatts Group may have received preferential treatment over other bidders - has resulted in an announcement by the NSW Auditor-General that the probity of the sale will be reviewed.