World’s biggest ecstasy bust: How a Google search foiled Aussie tomato tin mafia’s drug plots

Along read but a good read, and a long time coming

February 14, 2015 9:18AM

AFP drug sting

IT’S difficult to imagine that of all the hugely populated cities around the globe, it is little old Melbourne which holds the title of the site of the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

Yet it has held that distinction twice, with the first world’s biggest ecstasy bust of 1.2 tonnes being made here in 2005. That record was eclipsed when Australian Federal Police agents seized 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy pills in Melbourne in 2007.

One of the tins used in $440 million ecstasy haul. Picture: Brendan Francis

One of the tins used in $440 million ecstasy haul. Picture: Brendan Francis Source: News Corp Australia

There are two main reasons such massive amounts of ecstasy were shipped to Melbourne. The first is Australia has very strong Calabrian mafia cells in Melbourne and elsewhere and the Italian organised crime gang is one of the world’s biggest traffickers of ecstasy.

Secondly, Australians are wealthy enough to pay the world’s highest prices for ecstasy tablets — making it an attractive place to smuggle to.

Court suppression orders lifted yesterday enable the Herald Sun to reveal the inside story of the world’s biggest ecstasy bust, which involved 15 million pills hidden inside tomato tins which were shipped by the Calabrian mafia from Italy to the Melbourne docks.

This is the inside story of the world’s biggest ecstasy bust and how those responsible for importing 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy into Melbourne from Italy were brought to justice.

A POLICE sting foiled Mokbel mate Rob Karam’s plan to buy 26 tonnes of chemicals to make ice with a street value of $13 billion.

Karam — one of Crown casino’s top 200 gamblers — was secretly recorded as he arranged to ship the chemicals to Australia and Mexico.

What Karam didn’t know was the man in Hong Kong he was negotiating the massive deal with was an undercover officer working with Australian Federal Police.

Rob Karam (left) and accomplice Fadl Maroun meet Hong Kong police undercover operative #5

Rob Karam (left) and accomplice Fadl Maroun meet Hong Kong police undercover operative #51251 Michael (right) at the Harbour Plaza Hotel, Hong Kong. Picture: Australian Federal Police surveillance image. Source: Supplied

For the first time, the Herald Sun can also reveal details today of other mind-blowingly large drug deals and the Australian Mr Bigs who are behind bars because of them.

It can do so following the lifting yesterday of multiple Supreme and County Court suppression orders.

That enables the Herald Sun to tell the full inside story on the world’s biggest ecstasy bust, which involved the AFP seizing 15 million pills hidden in tomato tins shipped from Italy to Melbourne by the Calabrian mafia.

A customs agent unpacks canned tomato tins holding tonnes of ecstasy tablets. Picture: Au

A customs agent unpacks canned tomato tins holding tonnes of ecstasy tablets. Picture: Australian Customs Service. Source: News Limited

Those details include:

  • MORE than 30 gang members have been convicted and jailed by Victorian courts for a total of almost 300 years following the 2007 seizure of the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy – which had a street value of $440 million.
  • SENIOR gang members were secretly taped plotting to murder the man they blamed for the 4.4 tonne shipment of ecstasy being seized — that man is a mate of underworld identity Mick Gatto.
  • BLACK Uhlans bikie gang founder John Higgs was secretly recorded saying he wanted to wrap Gatto’s mate in carpet and “throw him in the river” as punishment for the ecstasy shipment being grabbed by police.
John Higgs. Picture: Australian Federal Police

John Higgs. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Frank Madafferi. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Frank Madafferi. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

THE drug operation was nearly blown before enough evidence was gathered to charge all those involved as AFP surveillance officers came within seconds of having to reveal themselves to physically stop gang members from murdering a second man they had fallen out with.

THAT intended victim didn’t come out into the Reggio Calabria Club car park in Parkville, where the gang members were waiting, so the execution attempt was aborted without the surveillance officers having to expose themselves.

MELBOURNE-based Calabrian Mafioso Frank Madafferi was a major drug dealer within months of former Federal Minister Amanda Vanstone overturning a decision to deport him.

AFP agents secretly taped Madafferi making death threats after he won his nine-year legal battle to stay in Australia and angrily claiming he was going to chop fellow drug dealer Pino Varallo “into little pieces”.

MADAFFERI was selling drugs provided to him by the Calabrian mafia gang charged by the AFP in 2008 over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

PASQUALE Barbaro, the Griffith-based boss of the Calabrian mafia gang behind the 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation, is the son of Francesco “Little Trees” Barbaro, one of the men named in the Woodward royal commission report as being an influential member of the Griffith mafia cell which murdered anti-drug campaigner Donald Mackay in 1977.

BARBARO was secretly bugged by the AFP telling fellow drug dealer Gratian Bran he had just warned Karam he was going to kill him if he didn’t pay what he owed for drugs supplied to him.

CONSPIRACY to murder charges against Barbaro and Madafferi have been dropped.

ONE of Australia’s most wanted men — Graham Potter — will still face trial over his alleged botched attempts to execute two of Barbaro’s enemies for Barbaro, and face trial over his alleged drug trafficking for Barbaro gang members.

Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Carmelo Falanga. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Carmelo Falanga. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

The massive drugs shipment had a street value of $440 million. Picture: Australian Federa

The massive drugs shipment had a street value of $440 million. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

SENIOR Barbaro drug gang member and South Australian Italian organised crime boss Carmelo Falanga fired four shots at police as they raided his meth lab and was found to be in possession of a fully automatic submachine gun and a .357 revolver.

A JOINT police and spy agency taskforce set up by the Australian Crime Commission helped police in Europe arrest 27 members of the Belgian syndicate believed to have made and sold the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy to the Italy-based Calabrian mafia cell which shipped the pills from Naples to Barbaro’s gang in Melbourne.

The huge haul of ecstasy following the seizure. Picture: Australian Federal Police

The huge haul of ecstasy following the seizure. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

KARAM — who was convicted drug boss Tony Mokbel’s shipping industry inside man — was on bail and on trial over the previous world record seizure in Melbourne of 1.2 tonnes of ecstasy in 2005 at the time he was helping organise the 4.4 tonne importation in 2007.

ORGANISED crime gangs in Mexico were lined up by Karam to receive 20 tonnes of chemicals from China to turn into ice for probable sale in Australia.

KARAM ordered a further six tonnes of ice-making chemicals to be shipped directly to Melbourne.

Calabria, in the toe of southern Italy, is the world headquarters of the Italian organised crime gang ‘Ndrangheta.

It is simply called the mafia by most in Australia, or the Calabrian mafia to differentiate it from the Sicilian mafia.

Details of Karam’s sentencing and involvement in the Calabrian mafia’s 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation in 2007, a 150kg shipment of cocaine in 2008 and his plan to import tonnes of drug making chemicals into Australia were suppressed until yesterday.

Rob Karam

Rob Karam Source: Supplied

Tony Mokbel

Tony Mokbel Source: HeraldSun

Karam, 48, of Derby St, Kew, was jailed for 19 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 15 over his major role in the 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation.

He is awaiting sentencing over other drug charges he was convicted of in November last year.

Karam’s final trial over the planned ice importation was discontinued last month to save the cost of another trial. A guilty verdict in that trial would probably not have resulted in his sentence being increased by much.

The 19-year jail term ends his charmed life of beating drug charges.

Karam was arrested with Mokbel in 2001 and charged over the importation of 550kg of ephedrine, which could make amphetamines worth $2 billion.

He was also charged in 2001 over a three tonne hashish shipment worth $147 million, which Victoria Police believe was organised and financed by Mokbel in partnership with murdered underworld heavyweights Lewis Moran and Graham “The Munster” Kinniburgh.

The trafficking and possession charges against Lebanese-born Karam over the ephedrine seizure were dropped in 2005 and he was found not guilty over the three tonne hash haul.

Graham Kinniburgh

Graham Kinniburgh Source: HeraldSun

Lewis Moran

Lewis Moran Source: News Limited

Karam was also cleared of conspiring with others to import five million ecstasy tablets into Melbourne in 2005.

The Herald Sun became aware through Italian police contacts in early 2007 that the Calabrian mafia was involved in shipping huge amounts of ecstasy to Melbourne.

It agreed to an AFP request not to reveal the Calabrian mafia connection to either the first 1.2 tonne shipment or the second 4.4 tonne one.

The AFP feared publicising the Calabrian connection would tip off the Italians that they were under investigation as the prime suspects.

Now that all the court cases are over and the suppression orders have been lifted the Herald Sun is able to reveal details of the two world’s biggest ecstasy busts for the first time without jeopardising any investigations.

The 2005 ectasy bust was worth an estimated $250 million. The drugs were found hidden in

The 2005 ectasy bust was worth an estimated $250 million. The drugs were found hidden in a shipment of ceramic tiles from Italy aboard the cargo ship Matilda. Source: News Corp Australia

Evidence suggests the 1.2 tonne shipment was going to be distributed partly through Victoria’s fruit and vegetable industry, which has a strong Calabrian mafia presence.

When the AFP swooped as the gang members were unloading the 1.2 tonne ecstasy shipment in 2005 they found the pills were being repacked into hundreds of the type of lettuce boxes used in Victorian markets.

How a Google search brought the whole game unstuck

The 2007 world’s biggest ecstasy bust wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful if a female freight forwarding manager in Melbourne had done what the crooks expected would happen after the container was unloaded.

It’s likely those arrested over the 4.4 tonne shipment would have been the lowly labourers sent by the Barbaro gang to pick up and unpack the pills.

But luck was with AFP that day in 2007.

The manager not doing as expected enabled the AFP to later charge 33 people and dismantle one of Australia’s biggest drug syndicates.

The syndicate was relying on their little sleight of hand with a legitimate company’s pho

The syndicate was relying on their little sleight of hand with a legitimate company’s phone number would go un-noticed. Picture: File. Source: News Corp Australia

In what was one of the largest AFP operation ever, gang members were watched by surveillance officers for 10,000 hours, 185,215 telephone conversations between gang members were secretly recorded and AFP agents and prosecutors put in 287,000 hours of work to crush the syndicate.

All that might not have happened had the freight forwarding manager in Melbourne done as the syndicate expected.

It was that manager’s job to ring a Melbourne company, which her paperwork said had imported a container load of tomato tins from Italy, to let them know it was ready for collection.

While the company was legitimate — and had no idea its name was being used by criminals to import 15 million ecstasy tablets — the phone number on the fake documents was linked to the drug syndicate.

The drugs were professionally packaged in Italy. Picture: Australian Federal Police

The drugs were professionally packaged in Italy. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Had the manager rung that number a gang member would have answered, pretended to be from the legitimate company and arranged for the container to be picked up without the company ever knowing its name had been used.

What neither the manager nor the crooks knew at that stage was that Customs had checked the container on arrival, discovered the ecstasy and alerted the AFP.

The AFP would have followed the container after it was picked up and would have swooped on whoever started unpacking it.

It’s more than likely those doing the unloading would be way down in the gang hierarchy.

If those criminal underlings didn’t dob in those above them — and people who inform on the Calabrian mafia often have very short lives — then the Mr Bigs responsible for organising the massive ecstasy shipment could easily have escaped detection.

What AFP forensic officers discovered in thousands of tomato tins. Picture: Australian Fe

What AFP forensic officers discovered in thousands of tomato tins. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

So while the AFP was always going to get the 15 million pills and some arrests, it might never have got the drug bosses.

That one manager in the Melbourne freight forwarding company office changed the course of the investigation by doing something totally unexpected.

Instead of reading the paperwork to get the phone number of the company which had supposedly imported the tomatoes, she Googled its name and rang the number on her computer screen rather than the number on the fake paperwork.

The tomato tins looked the goods. Picture: Brendan Francis

The tomato tins looked the goods. Picture: Brendan Francis Source: News Corp Australia

That meant she got through to the real company rather than the crooks.

Alarm bells started to ring when the company denied it had imported any tomatoes.

The manager needed to return the container and as the company she contacted said the tomatoes didn’t belong to it she arranged for the container to be unloaded so the empty container could be returned for re-use while she arranged storage for the tomatoes.

As the AFP was watching the container it had no choice but to move once it started being emptied by unsuspecting staff from the legitimate freight forwarding company.

As it turned the freight forwarding company manager did the AFP a favour by accidentally ringing the legitimate company.

Once the authorities were on the trail, a massive surveillance operation swung into gear.

Once the authorities were on the trail, a massive surveillance operation swung into gear. Pasquale Barbaro and Jan Visser pictured on Queen St in Melbourne during the sting. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Doing so meant the AFP ended up being able to arrest far more senior members of the gang than it would have had she rung the crooks.

It was efforts by the criminals to find out if the container had been seized — and subsequent drug deals to raise money to pay a $10 million debt owed to a European organised crime gang for the lost drugs — that led to them being careless and saying and doing things they normally wouldn’t have done, all under the watchful eyes and ears of the AFP.

Cops twig to a ‘drug shipment gone wrong’

Conversations secretly taped by police revealed the Barbaro gang remained hopeful of obtaining the 15 million pills for months after the container arrived in Melbourne on June 28, 2007, while suspecting, but not being sure, that the ecstasy had been seized.

Most of the evidence which led to the 33 people being charged was obtained in the months after the 15 million ecstasy pills were seized, with arrests not being made over the 4.4 tonne shipment until 13 months after the container arrived in Melbourne.

That evidence included the AFP capturing text messages in which Calabrian mafia boss Pasquale Barbaro attempted to persuade a Melbourne newspaper journalist to start asking the AFP questions about the ecstasy container to try to find out if it had been seized.

Barbaro, 53, of Whites Rd, Tharbogang, near Griffith, New South Wales, wanted the journalist to establish whether police had the drugs.

If they hadn’t seized them then he was going to send his minions to collect the container and unload it.

The syndicate started to get nervous about the fate of the shipment, but it was already i

The syndicate started to get nervous about the fate of the shipment, but it was already in the hands of the authorities. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

If the journalist was able to establish the container had been seized then Barbaro wanted him to write an article saying so as publicity about the seizure would convince the European drug gang which supplied the ecstasy that the Aussie crooks hadn’t ripped them off and stolen the drugs without paying for them.

Text messages between the journalist and Barbaro provided vital evidence linking Barbaro to the container in which the 15 million ecstasy tablets had been hidden.

The Supreme Court judge who jailed Barbaro for a minimum of 30 years in 2012 made reference to Barbaro’s attempted use of the journalist.

“You were understandably concerned that the seizure of the container had not been made public,” Justice Betty King told Barbaro.

“To ensure that your European suppliers understood that you were not trying to steal the ecstasy tablets, or as it is colloquially known, ‘rip them off’ — you attempted to try to have the seizure made public.”

Justice King told the court Barbaro contacted the journalist on a number of occasions asking if he was aware of the seizure “and giving details that could be known only to those who had a complete awareness of the container and its contents, including the size of the shipment”.

“You were attempting to ensure that those to whom you were responsible for this payment overseas were fully aware that the shipment had been seized by law enforcement authorities,” Justice King told Barbaro.

On September 19, 2007, several weeks after the 4.4 tonne ecstasy shipment was seized, Barbaro sent a text to the Melbourne journalist.

It said: “Mate, I have info on a drug shipment gone wrong, will u chase it up as I’m afraid to tell police of fear they might be involved. The container number is medu 1250218 and it came in on the ship monica 2 months ago and it is 15 million ecstasy tabs in tomato tins. Why isn’t it out, it’s the biggest in history.”

Although the journalist provided no help to Barbaro, the Mafioso heavy was able to use corrupt sources on Melbourne’s docks to eventually confirm the ecstasy was almost certainly in the hands of the AFP.

It then became Barbaro’s responsibility to send $10 million in cash to the European syndicate to cover the loss.

He and his fellow gang members needed to keep drug dealing to get that $10 million and the AFP watched and listened as they did.

While some arrests were always going to be made once the 4.4 tonnes was seized in 2007, the sequence of events could easily have followed the path of the previous world’s biggest ecstasy bust — which was also in Melbourne.

The drugs hidden in a shipment of tiles from Italy aboard the cargo ship Matilda.

The drugs hidden in a shipment of tiles from Italy aboard the cargo ship Matilda. Source: News Corp Australia

That case involved the importation of five million ecstasy tablets hidden in a container of tiles which arrived on Melbourne docks from Italy in 2005.

The AFP did then what it did later in 2007 with the 4.4 tonne seizure, they took out the ecstasy tablets and replaced them with fake pills and watched to see who picked up the container and then followed the container to see who unpacked it.

While they charged six men over the 2005 bust they only got convictions against the lowly labourers who had been paid by the gang to unload the ecstasy.

Among those acquitted over the 2005 world’s biggest ecstasy bust was drug boss Tony Mokbel’s mate Rob Karam.

Karam wasn’t so lucky over the next world’s biggest ecstasy bust in 2007. He was one of the 32 people so far convicted in connection with the 4.4 tonne ecstasy shipment.

Bugged conversations suggest that some of the players convicted over the 4.4 tonne shipment were also involved in the earlier 1.2 tonne ecstasy shipment, including Pasquale Barbaro.

The major players got away with that one because AFP agents had to swoop as soon as the 1.2 tonne shipment started being unloaded so as to avoid the loss of physical evidence — but in doing so they were limited to arresting only the minor players involved in unpacking the container.

Those further up the criminal food chain — like Barbaro — traditionally stay several steps removed from the actual drugs so as to avoid detection.

John Higgs, Rob Karam, Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli. Picture: Australian Federal

John Higgs, Rob Karam, Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

But after Barbaro lost the 4.4 tonne shipment in 2007 he and other senior gang members, in their desperation to earn the $10 million they needed to quickly pay their debt to the European organised crime syndicate, became much more hands on.

They talked more on telephones, had more face to face meetings and physically handled drugs — providing crucial evidence for the AFP as they did so.

Barbaro was caught on tape telling a fellow gang member he was doing things that he hadn’t done since he was learning the criminal ropes as a teenager.

The container containing the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy arrived in Melbourne aboard the MV Monica on June 28, 2007, after having left Naples on May 25.

The shipment was sent from Naples.

The shipment was sent from Naples. Source: News Limited

It was addressed to a legitimate Melbourne food importing company, which had no idea the gang was using fake documents to make it look as though it had ordered the tomatoes.

Those fake documents included the phone number the freight forwarding company was supposed to ring once the container had cleared Customs.

That number was connected to the drug syndicate. The plan was that once the number was called the gang would arrange pick-up and delivery of the container.

The gang expected a simple pickup for massive profit.

The gang expected a simple pickup for massive profit. Source: News Corp Australia

The Melbourne-based food importer was chosen by the gang because it was a company which did import food from Europe, making it less likely a container addressed to it would be considered suspicious and subjected to a search by Customs in Melbourne.

Karam, using his knowledge as a former shipping freight forwarder, was probably responsible for choosing which company to use and arranging the false paperwork.

As mentioned earlier, the freight forwarding company in Melbourne didn’t ring the crooks so the crooks started to panic and make frantic attempts to try to find out what had happened to the container they knew had arrived.

The drug syndicate picked a company that was less likely to set off alarm bells with Cust

The drug syndicate picked a company that was less likely to set off alarm bells with Customs. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

While neither the AFP nor Customs were aware of a specific container of drugs, they had intelligence provided by a number of overseas agencies that a shipment of drugs was thought to have left Europe for Melbourne.

That led to Customs singling out a large number of containers to be searched.

They struck gold when they opened up container MEDU1250218 and cut the top off one of the sealed tomato tins to find it full of ecstasy tablets stamped with various logos, including a kangaroo.

The AFP was alerted and the mammoth job of opening up 607 boxes containing 3642 tins, removing the contents and repacking them with fake drugs began — with the intention of then watching the container and allowing it to be picked up and delivered so they could nab whoever did so.

Some tins were weighed down with gravel to ensure the total shipment weighed the same as

Some tins were weighed down with gravel to ensure the total shipment weighed the same as a legitimate one. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

The pills had been professionally packed, probably at a cannery in Italy. Some of the tins actually contained tomatoes, others were packed with gravel and 3034 of them were full of ecstasy pills. The tins of gravel were included so the total weight of the consignment would match what a genuine shipment of 3642 tins of tomatoes would weigh.

The total number of ecstasy tablets packed into the tomato tins was 15,193,798 and they weighed 4.423 tonnes.

AFP agents involved in the unpacking were stunned at the size of the bust — as was the then AFP Commissioner, Mick Keelty, when he got the phone call telling him his Melbourne agents had just made the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

Then Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty

Then Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty Source: News Limited

Saverio Zirilli. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Saverio Zirilli. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

They knew, just about for certain, that Karam would be involved, as would Barbaro.

Phone taps and physical surveillance of them led to others in the group being identified.

The AFP knew Barbaro and his cousin and right-hand man, Saverio Zirilli, had travelled from Griffith and booked into Melbourne’s Pacific International Suites in Little Bourke St, shortly before the ecstasy container was due to arrive.

Senior South Australian mafia figure Carmelo Falanga also travelled to Melbourne at the same time.

The three Mafioso had regular meeting with Karam and Higgs in coming days as they tried to find out if it was safe to pick up the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy.

There were tense days in the Pacific International Suites as they waited for news.

AFP agents sensed the tension as they monitored every conversation in the room the crooks were sharing.

The crew waiting for news at the Pacific International. Picture: Australian Federal Polic

The crew waiting for news at the Pacific International. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Carmelo Falanga travelled to Melbourne for the expected shipment. Picture: Australian Fed

Carmelo Falanga travelled to Melbourne for the expected shipment. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Higgs’s lack of mobile phone knowledge resulted in some short-lived jubilation that the container had arrived, hadn’t been seized and was safe to collect.

On July 4, 2007, several days after the container was unloaded at the Melbourne docks, Higgs sent a cryptic, yet optimistic, early morning text to Barbaro and Falanga.

Barbaro was heard in the bugged hotel room to say Higgs’s message was the best news for “a f…ing long time”.

Higgs claimed that he needed to “come back to earth”; such was his level of excitement at receiving the text.

The cause for Higgs’s optimism was only fully revealed that afternoon.

Higgs joined Zirilli and Griffith-based Barbaro gang member Pasquale Sergi in room 609 at the Pacific International and told them he had received a text message overnight saying “delivery successful”.

Higgs wrongly concluded the sender was Karam, whose job it was to find out if the pills had arrived and whether or not they had been detected by Customs or police.

The message led to Higgs concluding the much awaited clearance enabling safe access to the container and its drugs had been confirmed by Karam and it was that “green light” message that Higgs had earlier conveyed to Barbaro.

As the AFP listened to Higgs telling Zirilli and Sergi (Barbaro was out at the time) about the text message they could tell Zirilli and Higgs were extremely buoyant, with Zirilli describing the news as “beautiful”, but Sergi initially remained silent.

Zirilli spoke about setting in train the next phase, getting two gang underlings to take a truck to pick up the ecstasy-filled container, possibly as early as the following morning.

The crew held out hope the massive haul was still theirs. Picture: Australian Federal Pol

The crew held out hope the massive haul was still theirs. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

An excited Higgs was heard talking about persons emptying the container and the gang finally getting their hands on the drugs.

At this point, Sergi, a man more versed in text messaging than Higgs, proffered his unpopular opinion regarding the source of the message Barbaro, Zirilli and Higgs were getting so positively worked up about.

He suggested the message had not been sent by Karam but that it was merely a service provider auto-generated message confirming the successful delivery of an earlier text sent by Higgs to Karam.

Sergi’s theory was initially discounted by Higgs and Zirilli.

It was ultimately accepted as being correct — but only after Higgs met Karam that night and established the “delivery successful” text was indeed from the phone provider and not Karam and it related to the successful delivery of a text message and not the successful delivery of 15 million ecstasy tablets.

That was one of the stuff-ups by syndicate members that prompted senior gang member Jan Visser to come up with one a one-liner that caused much laughter among the AFP agents who were secretly listening to his conversations.

“It’s hard to fly like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys,” Visser was recorded saying.

The bugged conversations recorded in room 609 by the AFP provided valuable evidence as to who was connected to the 4.4 tonne ecstasy shipment.

Pasquale Barbaro, Saverio Zirilli, Severino Scarponi and Domenico Barbaro pictured in Car

Pasquale Barbaro, Saverio Zirilli, Severino Scarponi and Domenico Barbaro pictured in Carlton after a visit to Brunetti’s cafe. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Telling the mafia big boys the bad news

It wasn’t until July 14, 2007, that Barbaro decided to prepare to tell his Calabrian mafia bosses in Italy the bad news that it appeared the ecstasy had been seized.

He flew to Calabria on July 21, after being secretly recorded saying he needed “to lick their wounds”. While he was in Italy he spoke to Zirilli in calls intercepted by the AFP.

Barbaro told Zirilli he had been copping “the heat, right left and centre”.

In a later call to Zirilli, Barbaro said the suppliers of the ecstasy in Italy were all “starving here, and I’m to blame”.

Barbaro came back to Australia after a month with the news that if the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy was lost then he and fellow drug importation financier Falanga each had to send $5 million to the European syndicate to compensate for the loss.

A flurry of drug activity by Barbaro and his gang in the following months to get money to pay that debt provided yet more evidence for the AFP, with two breakthroughs in particular providing a mountain of vital information.

What’s that again? An AFP detective monitoring telephone surveillance. Picture: Brendan F

What’s that again? An AFP detective monitoring telephone surveillance. Picture: Brendan Francis Source: News Corp Australia

The first was when Griffith-based Barbaro, 53, decided he was spending so much time in Melbourne that it made sense to rent a property.

The married father of four got his Melbourne mistress, Sharon Ropa, who was 37 when she was arrested in 2008, to rent a unit in Little Palmerston St, Carlton.

Sharon Ropa, following her arrest. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Sharon Ropa, following her arrest. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Guns found buried in the garden of Barbaro’s Carlton flat. Picture: Australian Federal Po

Guns found buried in the garden of Barbaro’s Carlton flat. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

It became Barbaro and Ropa’s love nest, as well as an office, a meeting place for fellow gang members and a source of evidence for the AFP.

The AFP secretly installed cameras and listening devices in the apartment and what they captured proved crucial to convicting those involved in the ecstasy importation, other drug dealing and money laundering offences.

So much cash was being brought into the apartment that Ropa bought a money counting machine, which the AFP got footage of her using.

One good piece of evidence was obtained when the AFP raided the property about 4am on August 8, 2008.

On the bedside table next to the bed Barbaro and a naked Ropa were sharing at the time was a piece of paper with the number of the container containing the 150kg of cocaine written on it.

Also seized by police from the love nest were more than 2500 ecstasy tablets, 30 mobile phones, $181,000 in cash and several notebooks outlining payments made for drugs. They also discovered guns buried in the back garden.

The second breakthrough was when AFP agents picked up from various bugged conversations that several of the leading players were planning to meet at the George Graham Park at Wunghnu, near Shepparton, on April 16, 2008.

Pasquale Barbaro, Rob Karam and Sharon Ropa thought they were safe to chat at a Shepparto

Pasquale Barbaro, Rob Karam and Sharon Ropa thought they were safe to chat at a Shepparton park, but AFP operatives were listening and watching. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Each of the gang members was very careful when talking and texting over the many mobile phones they used, making it difficult to use what they often said in code as evidence against them.

What the AFP was hoping was the gang members would feel much safer talking openly about their drug operations while sitting at a bench table in a remote park 204km north of Melbourne.

What the crooks didn’t know was the AFP quickly arranged to be able to listen to what was said in the park.

Conversations were captured between Barbaro, senior Barbaro gang member Gratian Bran and Mr X, who can’t be identified but who is a member of the European gang who was sent to Australia to ensure the Barbaro syndicate paid the $10 million it owed the Calabrian mafia in Italy for the loss of the ecstasy.

The AFP was able to record the following conversation about ecstasy tablets.

BARBARO: “But you told me six thousand.”

MR X: “Yeah, but that’s from the pure MDMA and this is already mixed so that it’s about a hundred, a hundred pills.”

BARBARO: “The ones I bought were already mixed with the binder and everything. I made then thousand out of one kilo”

MR X: “Yeah, from the pure MDMA”

BARBARO: “Fifteen kilos would be …”

BRAN: “That’s half a million dollars. I’ve got seven and a half kilos for $300,000.”

BARBARO: “The ones in Sydney, they were going and I told them I said sell them at, I said, for even $7.50 just to get rid of them. Just sell them just to get the ball over the line, that’s the first 250,000.”

AFP agents watched as Pasquale Barbaro left the table and walked through the park to his

AFP agents watched as Pasquale Barbaro left the table and walked through the park to his Mazda ute, opened the door, leant into the cabin, and returned to the table with something in his hand. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

As the three drug dealers sat around a picnic table they talked openly about their criminal activity, much to the delight of the AFP agents secretly monitoring the bugged conversation.

Mr X talked about his recent discussions with the European syndicate which supplied the ecstasy. He said the Europeans were still concerned that money owed by the Barbaro syndicate had not yet been paid.

Barbaro told Mr X that Karam still owed about $600,000 and expressed frustration at Karam’s constant stalling over the debt.

Rob Karam owed big money. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Rob Karam owed big money. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Bran chipped in that Karam should be punished for his conduct and told Mr X and Barbaro he knew people in Melbourne who could assist in recovering the money Karam owed.

Barbaro stated that he had already warned Karam that he would pay at the end of the day “either in money, or with his life.”

Some of those involved in the 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation — including Barbaro and Karam — also imported 150kg of cocaine into Melbourne on July 24, 2008, just a couple of weeks before the AFP made arrests in 2008 in connection with the 2007 ecstasy shipment and subsequent crimes.

They used corrupt dock workers in Panama to put three bags containing the cocaine in with bags of Columbian coffee beans in a container which was on its way to Melbourne.

The plan was to use corrupt dock workers in Melbourne to open the container just after it was unloaded, remove the three bags of cocaine and reseal the container with a genuine seal, which the workers in Panama had placed inside the container with the cocaine.

The cocaine shipment hidden in a container from Panama. Picture: Australian Federal Polic

The cocaine shipment hidden in a container from Panama. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

This type of drug smuggling is known as the piggyback method, which involves drugs being placed in a legitimate cargo with the intention of the container being accessed and the drugs removed prior to delivery to the actual legitimate importer of the other goods in the container.

The plan failed as Customs officers picked up irregularities when they X-rayed the container and later found the cocaine during a search.

Karam’s Melbourne dock contacts were so good he knew Customs had found the cocaine within minutes of them discovering it.

He was caught on tape giving Barbaro the bad news and a police surveillance camera hidden in Barbaro’s Carlton apartment recorded Barbaro putting his head in his hands.

Ever the attentive and fawning lover, Sharon Ropa was caught on tape asking Barbaro if he wanted a drink of “water, coke, anything else?”

Barbaro replied: “Coke, we’d love 150kgs of it, but you know you haven’t got it.”

Gang members also had a container of what they thought was 100kg of chemicals to make ice on the way to Melbourne from India at the time arrests were made in August 2008.

It turned out the Indian crooks had ripped them off and the chemicals they sent hidden in furniture were not what the gang had paid for and couldn’t have been used to make illegal drugs.

Fadl Maroun, after his arrest. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Fadl Maroun, after his arrest. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

And Karam and fellow gang member Fadl Maroun were well advanced in their plans to buy tonnes of chemicals to ship to Australia and Mexico to be turned into ice.

Karam and Maroun were brought undone by some excellent undercover operatives in Hong Kong and Melbourne.

AFP agents knew from bugged telephone conversations that Karam was keen to buy tonnes of ice-making chemicals.

They set up an elaborate sting, with the help of Hong Kong police, whereby Karam became convinced he was dealing with a senior member of a Chinese organised crime gang with unlimited access to the chemicals needed to make ice.

Karam and Maroun flew to Hong Kong to meet that supposed Mr Big, who was using the name Michael, for the first time on March 13, 2008 and again for subsequent meetings on May 14 and July 2 that year.

Michael was actually an experienced Hong Kong police undercover agent.

Michael met Karam and Maroun at the Whampoa Lounge cafe, in Hong Kong’s Harbour Plaza on each of the three occasions. Every face to face meeting was secretly video and audio taped by police.

Karam and Maroun meeting 'Michael', the Hong Kong undercover officer. Picture: Australian

Karam and Maroun meeting ‘Michael’, the Hong Kong undercover officer. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Michael was posing as a Chinese crime boss who was interested in getting ecstasy pills from Karam in exchange for supplying Karam with tonnes of drug making chemicals from China.

As a result of the Hong Kong meetings with Michael, arrangements were made for Karam to meet with a female who Michael said was his criminal contact in Melbourne.

That female was an undercover AFP agent who was using the name Rosie during the sting operation.

Two meetings later occurred between Maroun, who was acting as Karam’s intermediary, and Rosie on May 10 and August 6, 2008, at the Middle Bar and Café in Middle Park. Both meetings at outdoor tables were secretly audio and video recorded as well as physically observed by hidden AFP agents.

During the May 10 meeting, Maroun gave Rosie a quantity of ecstasy and Rosie gave him $100,000 in cash.

This drug deal had been agreed to during Karam and Maroun’s first meeting with Michael in Hong Kong on March 13, 2008, and was seen by Karam as a stepping stone to ensure Michael supplied the chemicals Karam was after.

Michael told Karam during the Hong Kong meeting they would do the ecstasy deal first and if it was successful he would turn his mind to providing the chemicals.

Doing it that way ensured that even if the AFP’s grand plan to get Karam over the conspiracy to import tonnes of chemicals failed they would at least have the Melbourne ecstasy deal to charge him with.

The Harbour Plaza Hotel in Hong Kong.

The Harbour Plaza Hotel in Hong Kong. Source: News Limited

Michael insisted in his meetings with Karam and Maroun in Hong Kong that an upfront payment of an amount equivalent to $20,000 needed to be paid as a sign of good faith and explained that such payment was required before “his people” would start production of the chemicals.

Michael and Karam and Maroun provided each other with “safe” telephone numbers that supposedly couldn’t be traced back to them and which should only be used to communicate with each other to organise the deal.

The AFP bugged those phones and retrieved incriminating text messages from them, as well as recorded conversations.

Listening devices at the first meeting between Michael and Karam and Maroun in Hong Kong caught Karam bragging to Michael about having four million ecstasy tablets in Melbourne that could be used to pay for the chemicals he wanted Michael to supply. He said they were good quality pills imported from professional laboratories in Amsterdam.

Karam told Michael he wanted liquid chemicals, rather than crystals, to make ice, and that he wanted them shipped to Italy and that the first shipment should be two tonnes.

He told Michael he wanted it to be liquid “because the avenue we have from Italy to Australia is liquid”.

Karam said he had a cook arranged to turn the liquid into ice for sale in Australia.

Keen to seal the deal, Karam promised Michael he could have a share of the profit from the first batch of ice.

He upped the ante during his second meeting with Michael in Hong Kong on May 14, 2008.

Karam said he now wanted 20 tonnes of chemicals and that he wanted it sent to Mexico instead of Italy because “they don’t even check”.

He and Michel exchanged many texts between that May 14 meeting and the third Hong Kong meeting on July 2, 2008.

The texts related to the first shipment being of five tonnes to Mexico and a bit of haggling over the price Karam needed to pay.

One of the texts from Karam to Michael said: “OK, that’s fine about the money but is the 5 ton ready to go as my people are ready to start on that now.”

Michael texted back: “Yes we will start getting that ready once we have received the agreed amount. How soon do u think u will be back up here.”

Karam replied: “I have the agreed amount with me and will pass it to you as soon as I arrive there. Trust me I will not cheat you. I promise. If the first five is ready I can come anytime. Are we able to get just a small sample of it?”

Michael was told by Karam that he wanted a total of 26 tonnes of chemicals, with 20 tonnes going to Mexico and six tonnes to Australia.

The drug ice can fetch an estimated $1m per kilogram on the streets.

The drug ice can fetch an estimated $1m per kilogram on the streets. Source: Supplied

The Australian Crime Commission puts the going rate for a single hit of ice (0.1 gram) on the streets of Melbourne at $100.

Karam’s planned importation of 26 tonnes of chemicals would have made 13 tonnes of ice with a street value of $13 billion.

Karam and Maroun flew back to Hong Kong to meet Michael again on July 2, 2008, to thrash out more details.

They discussed how Karam would provide the $20,000 to Michael to start the ball rolling.

Karam was recorded telling Michael he wanted the first batch of five tonnes of chemicals to be delivered to a factory in Mexico.

He said his chemist would fly from Australia to Mexico as soon as the chemicals arrived and would do the cook in Mexico.

“Everything is ready to start,” Karam was recorded telling Michael.

“The cook is ready. The chemist is ready, the factory is ready. Everything is there waiting.”

Karam told Michael he had 100,000 ecstasy pills in hand to pay for the chemicals.

Karam wanted to cook the drug ice in massive quantities, reminiscent of the TV series Bre

Karam wanted to cook the drug ice in massive quantities, reminiscent of the TV series Breaking Bad. Picture: AMC Source: Supplied

He also asked Michael if there was any possibility of importing guns along with the chemicals, but that the “pseudo is more important that the guns”.

Karam flew back to Australia and immediately began trying to find investors in Australia to fund the 26-tonne chemical venture — it has been one of Karam’s traits throughout his long criminal career to use other people’s money to pay for the drug shipments he organised.

He didn’t approach Barbaro or any of his gang members for cash. The 26-tonne chemical importation was a Karam frolic that Barbaro wasn’t involved in or aware of.

Karam was struggling to quickly get the funds he needed so he sent a text to Michael on July 22, 2008, apologising for the delay and claiming the “cartel war in Mexico” was making communications with his Mexican contacts difficult.

But Karam assured Michael he still wanted the tonnes of chemicals and that he hoped Michael would be patient while the Mexico hitch was being sorted out.

Michael responded with a text saying “just let me know when you are ready, but nothing can start here till we get what we agreed on”.

Maroun met Rosie at the Middle Park cafe on August 6, 2008, and gave her ecstasy tablets worth $20,000.

Karam was ecstatic when Michael texted later that day to say Rosie had confirmed she had received payment.

Michael told Karam receipt of the payment meant “my people are ready to start things right away”.

Karam didn’t stay ecstatic for long.

Armed with more than enough evidence of Karam’s involvement in the conspiracy to buy the 26 tonnes of chemicals, as well as his prominent roles in the 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation and 150kg cocaine shipment, the AFP arrested him during an early morning raid on his Kew home on August 8, 2008 — just two days after he sealed the ambitious chemical deal with Michael.

(See the footage of Maroun’s meeting with “Rosie” in the video above)

AFP detective superintendent Matt Warren — pictured in the AFP building control centre —

AFP detective superintendent Matt Warren — pictured in the AFP building control centre — led the massive operation. Picture: Brendan Francis Source: News Corp Australia

Inside the investigation: Putting the pieces of the puzzle together

AFP Detective Superintendent Matt Warren was heavily involved in the world’s biggest ecstasy bust from the start and headed up the investigation which followed it.

He told the Herald Sun it was intelligence received from the AFP liaison office in The Hague which eventually led to the June 2007 seizure of the 4.4 tonne shipment of ecstasy.

That non-specific information about large shipments of ecstasy coming to Melbourne from Italy was developed further by the AFP and Customs.

Other law enforcement agencies also received intelligence about ecstasy shipments, which was shared with the AFP.

“We were already conducting an investigation into Barbaro and Zirilli,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“We were targeting them in relation to their ongoing criminal activity.

“Separate to that, we received information from international agencies, as well as locally from our state police colleagues, about ecstasy shipments.

“We fed all of that information through Customs.

“Nothing we received would be considered to be a smoking gun that led us directly to the container containing the 4.4 tonnes.

“Customs were targeting a raft of different containers based on this fairly broad information that we received.

“The container which contained the 4.4 tonnes was subjected to searching by Customs because it fitted the profile of what the information received from various agencies suggested we should be looking for.

The AFP kept a close eye on containers when they hit the jackpot. Picture: File

The AFP kept a close eye on containers when they hit the jackpot. Picture: File Source: News Corp Australia

“That information was that there was a consignment of drugs coming to Melbourne and that it was probably coming from Europe.

“So Customs were looking at various containers.

“That diligence paid off when they opened one of the sealed tomato tins and found ecstasy pills.”

Det-Supt Warren said Customs alerted the AFP and his role then began in what became a 13-month operation before charges were laid.

He said the AFP already had Barbaro’s telephone bugged over its separate probe into his activities and Victoria Police were monitoring Higgs over other matters.

“Victoria Police had committed significant resources into investigating Higgs,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“Some of the evidence Victoria Police captured during their pursuit of Higgs was absolutely crucial in terms of the convictions we got, as was information provided by the Australian Crime Commission.”

Det-Supt Warren said Barbaro and Higgs, along with Zirilli and Karam, quickly became the prime suspects for organising the massive ecstasy importation.

“We had been working Barbaro from a surveillance point of view for months before the ecstasy shipment arrived,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“We twigged fairly quickly that it was probably Barbaro and his group, but we didn’t have any direct links so we couldn’t confirm that.

A surveillance shot of Higgs and Falanga near Nick's Spaghetti Bar in Lonsdale Street, Me

A surveillance shot of Higgs and Falanga near Nick’s Spaghetti Bar in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

“While we had nothing specifically linking him to it at that stage, the fact he and Zirilli were in Melbourne when the container arrived was a strong indication of their involvement — as was the people they met and talked with in the days before and after the container arrived, such as Higgs, Karam and .

“Before the ecstasy arrived we were targeting Barbaro in a general sense, rather than because of some specific crime we expected him to commit.

“He was chosen to be a target because of his known background in drug dealing.

“With somebody like Barbaro, it’s like working on the likes of Tony Mokbel.

“You work on them long enough and they are going to be involved in something criminal as that is there business. They are in the business of being a crook.

“We knew enough about Barbaro that if we targeted him then sooner or later he was going to lead us to criminal activity.”

What he led them to was the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

The sheer size of the haul was a logistical challenge for authorities. Picture: Australia

The sheer size of the haul was a logistical challenge for authorities. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

“The sheer size of the seizure created an enormous resourcing problem for us,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“All our seizures are processed by our forensics people. They are simply not set up to process 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy.

“They had never done a seizure of that size before, in fact, no one had as it was the world’s biggest seizure.

“So we had the investigation side of it, chasing who was responsible, but we also had to work out how we were physically going to process the drugs, how we were going to store the ecstasy.

“We didn’t have a drug vault that could handle 4.4 tonnes.

“We had to find a large area within the AFP to build a secure vault that doubled as a lab where the drugs could be processed and tested.

“Once they had been tested they needed to be destroyed, except for the few samples kept as evidence for the trials.

“Even that in itself was an enormous logistic exercise, which we had to do in a graduated process.”

Det-Supt Warren said it was an unexpected stroke of luck that the manager of the freight forwarding company in Melbourne contacted the legitimate company rather than the crooks.

“Had she rung the false number on the paperwork, instead of using Google to get the phone number of the legitimate company, she would have got through to the crooks and the crooks would have picked up the container and we would have made arrests as the substitute drugs were being unloaded,” he said.

“”Had that occurred, and had we arrested half a dozen low-level unpackers, there is no way we could have continued to not announce the seizure of 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy.

“That, potentially, would have put us in a position where we were not able to get the bigger players, the organisers.

“So, without question, the manager did us a favour by accidentally contacting the legitimate company instead of the crooks.

“It meant we couldn’t go ahead with the controlled delivery of the container — which would have involved us watching the container to see who picked it up and unpacked it — and meant instead that we started a long investigation that led us to make 33 arrests, including of those up the criminal tree that organised it.

“The size of the seizure in itself also did us a favour in that it was so big the

AFP made it its number one investigation and one of its highest priorities for a 12 month period.

“We had unlimited access to all the AFP’s resources to tackle it.”

Sharon Ropa’s every move was monitored at the Wunghnu meeting. Picture: Australian Federa

Sharon Ropa’s every move was monitored at the Wunghnu meeting. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Det-Supt Warren said a good example of how having as much manpower and technical resources as were required helped enormously in gathering evidence that would otherwise have been missed was the bugging of the George Graham Park at Wunghnu, near Shepparton, on April 16, 2008.

Saturation physical and electronic surveillance of several key Barbaro gang members around the clock for weeks at a time produced intelligence that some of them were going to meet at the park and the reason was they were wary of talking over telephones as they feared, quite rightly, that their phones were bugged.

They figured sitting around a table in the bush would enable them to talk freely about their drug importation and trafficking plans.

That was a mistaken assumption as the AFP was able to set up to capture the ensuing conversations before the meeting took place.

The secretly taped conversations in the bugged Wunghnu park became part of the AFP’s brief of evidence against Barbaro and others.

Gang members were watched by surveillance officers for 10,000 hours and 185,215 telephone

Gang members were watched by surveillance officers for 10,000 hours and 185,215 telephone conversations between gang members were secretly recorded. Picture: Brendan Francis Source: News Corp Australia

“It was crucial evidence,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“It was a great example of what can happen when you have significant resources that enable you to firstly observe a pattern of behaviour and secondly have the people available with the necessary equipment and ability to do what was needed to be done to be in a position to monitor the conversations our intelligence told us were likely to occur in the park.

“The bugging by us of the Carlton apartment in Little Palmerston that Sharon Ropa organised for her and Barbaro was also crucial for us.

“It meant that every time Barbaro came from his home in Griffith to Melbourne we knew where he would be staying and could monitor any conversations in the Little Palmerston apartment he and Ropa shared.

“It suited Barbaro to set his girlfriend Ropa up in a place where they felt safe.

“It suited us because it became a place where Barbaro and his senior gang members would gather to discuss their criminal activity.

“Conversations we monitored in the apartment provided evidence against various gang members and also gave us leads as to what they were planning and what their movements were going to be.”

Det-Supt Warren said a number of factors, some beyond the AFP’s control, contributed to making the investigation so successful.

“It was a perfect storm of events coming together,” he said.

“There was the sheer size of the seizure, the quirk of fate that led to the controlled delivery not being successful and the crooks failing to get their hands on the drugs.

“All that meant we could commit to giving the operation whatever it needed.

“The majority of the brief of evidence against them came after the seizure of the container.

“It was their attempts to locate it, find out what had happened to it and then further drug activity to get the money to pay the debt they owed for it that gave us the evidence to charge so many of them.

“Barbaro in particular became a lot more hands on than he normally would be. Crooks of his stature usually stay well removed from the actual drug dealing so as to avoid detection.

“They have people to do the dirty work for them.

“But he became very hands on after the container was seized.

“He did so through desperation because he needed money quickly to pay back the $10 million to the syndicate in Europe and in that desperation made mistakes and provided us with the evidence to help convict him.

“There was a bill to be paid and the consequences of not paying it would be serious.

“It was at least $10 million, and I suspect that figure was a negotiated settlement.

“I suspect what was really owed was a lot more than that and there was some negotiation, based on Barbaro’s high standing with the international Calabrian mafia community, for him to get a discount on what was really owed.

The mafia are not to be trifled with. Here’s the suspected head of a Calabrian mafia crim

The mafia are not to be trifled with. Here’s the suspected head of a Calabrian mafia crime family Salvatore Coluccio escorted by police special forces after his 2009 arrest. Coluccio had been on the run for four years and as found hiding in a special bunker equipped with an electric generator, an air conditioning system and a large stock of food. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

“The Calabrians in Europe would have borne some of the loss themselves and it may be that there were family members in Italy who copped some of the loss without requiring Barbaro to pay them.

“The $10 million Barbaro sent to Europe wasn’t the full debt.

“Certainly $10 million doesn’t equate to 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy. There was certainly a loss that the European syndicate would have had to bear.”

Det-Supt Warren said it was likely the $10 million Barbaro was required to pay would have been an agreed amount to build trust back up with the European syndicate so it would continue to provide Barbaro with drugs.

He said while the AFP had no specific intelligence which pointed to the Calabrians in Italy being more senior than those in the Australian syndicate it was likely those in Italy were higher up the Calabrian mafia hierarchy.

“There is a long standing history that that is the way the syndicate operates,” Det-Supt Warren said.

“There has been enough intelligence gathered over the years by the AFP, the ACC and the NCA before it, as well as various other organisations who have looked at the ‘Ndrangheta as a group, to say the leadership goes right back to Calabria.

“It branches out into various parts of Europe. They have strong links in Germany.

“There have been quite well publicised Calabrian mafia murders that occurred in Germany that are linked through family connections to Australia.

“There is no question those clans stay strong.

“I think that in terms of the standing in the world of organised crime that the Australian arm of the Calabrian mafia is a bit lower down than the Europeans.

“The centre of Calabrian mafia operations is in Europe, with Australia as a franchise.

“Having said that, Barbaro had a very high standing in the organisation overseas.”

Six Calabrian mafia members were executed in a hail of bullets as they left a birthday party in the German city of Duisberg in August 2007.

They were victims of a long-running feud between the Strangio-Nirta and Pelle-Vottari Calabrian mafia clans. The Pelle-Vottari clan is closely aligned to the Romeo clan.

The warring clans have relatives in Australia who police believe are Calabrian mafia members, particularly the Nirta, Pelle and Romeo clans.

The feud started in 1991 when two members of the Strangio-Nirta clan were shot in a fight with members of the Pelle-Vottari clan during carnival celebrations in the Calabrian mafia stronghold of San Luca in southern Italy.

Women wait for the caskets of Francesco Giorgi, Sebastiano Strangio and Marco Marmo after

Women wait for the caskets of Francesco Giorgi, Sebastiano Strangio and Marco Marmo after their funerals following the mafia slaying that left six dead. Source: AP

A number of tit for tat reprisal attacks happened in following years, culminating in the Duisberg massacre of 2007.

Massacre ringleader Giovanni Strangio was jailed for life in 2011.

AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin yesterday said the world’s biggest ecstasy bust was a superb result.

“This prosecution demonstrates the tangible, disruptive results that can occur when the AFP and its partners actively target significant organised crime ventures, and follow through with a combination of tested and innovative investigative tactics,” he told the Herald Sun.

“More than 400 members were involved in the investigation leading up to the arrest phase.

“Their patience and dedication not only prevented 15 million tablets of MDMA from hitting Australian streets, it also dismantled the senior levels of a diverse, well-connected international criminal enterprise that was capable of importing large quantities of drugs, facilitating an associated supply chain and laundering millions of dollars.

The bust kept millions of ecstasy pills off the streets. Picture: Australian Federal Poli

The bust kept millions of ecstasy pills off the streets. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

“This is one of the most significant investigations in the history of the AFP and it is one that we — as an organisation and individuals — are very proud of.”

Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Bromwich said the charges which followed the world’s biggest ecstasy bust resulted in one of the longest and most successful CDPP prosecutions ever.

“Thirty two of the 33 people known to have been involved have been convicted now,” Mr Bromwich told the Herald Sun.

“The only one who hasn’t is the one who absconded.

“We have had very long running counter terrorism trials, very long running major tax fraud trials and very long running commercial matters.

“We are in the business of running big, difficult trials.”

Mr Bromwich said prosecutors from his department had worked incredibly closely with the AFP.

“The collaboration took place right from the very earliest stage,” he said.

“Our people were involved in advising pretty much on a daily basis on an incredible range of issues, legal, evidentiary, practical and the works.”

Mr Bromwich said the sentence of life with a 30 year non-parole period given to drug gang boss Pasquale Barbaro was one of the longest ever handed down in Australia for a drug offence.

He said there had been a few sentences of life with no parole, but only when the offenders forced a trial by pleading not guilty.

Barbaro pleaded guilty.

Mr Bromwich said it was a “stiff but appropriate sentence” which would send a message to other drug dealers what they were putting at risk by offending.

“What a case like this tells us, in common with many of our other cases, is that a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes by the police and the prosecutors and the importance of the pivotal role of the prosecutor in shaping and running the case,” Mr Bromwich said.

“What the prosecution really do, what they are engaged in, is the art of bridging the gap between knowing and proving.

“So they are taking the evidence that has been obtained, analysing it, sorting it out, working out where gaps may be and requisitioning for additional evidence to close gaps of that kind.

“What a complex case like this teaches you is how important that collaborative exercise is, how important it is to have experienced, dedicated prosecutors who are able to value add in such an important way to the already very good effort by the police.”

PROFILES: The who’s who of the tomato tin mafia

The characters charged over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust and offences related to it included Calabrian mafia bosses, convicted killers, a bike gang boss, a Lebanese-born shipping industry insider and some of Australia’s most prolific money launderers.

This is the who’s who of the 33 people charged (one of the 33 can’t be identified as his name has been suppressed by the County Court).

Another profile. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Another profile. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Pasquale Barbaro. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

PASQUALE BARBARO, 53, formerly of Whites Rd, Tharbogang, near Griffith, New South Wales.

Nicknames: “Pat” (anglicised version of Pasquale), “Garbo” (a word play on his surname), “Ugly” (because he is no oil painting) and “Muscles” (because he worked on them).

Pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic 4,4 tonnes of ecstasy, trafficking 1.2 million ecstasy tablets and attempting to possess 150kg of cocaine, Asked for a further three offences to be taken into account. Those offences were conspiring to import 100kg of pseudoephedrine from India, dealing with at least a $1 million in cash which was the proceeds of crime and money laundering.

Sentenced to life and ordered to serve a minimum of 30 years.

Barbaro is a senior Calabrian mafia boss and one of Australia’s biggest ever drug dealers.

He has a tattoo on his bicep which echo the words of Winston Churchill. It reads: “If you are going through hell — keep going.”

Barbaro is the undisputed boss of the syndicate charged over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

He is easily the most powerful and domineering gang member, with others in the syndicate being very deferential to him.

It was Barbaro — through his senior role in the Calabrian mafia — who had the international connections to give him access to tonnes of drugs.

An unknown male, most often referred to as “The Turk”, was pre-eminent among the European group providing ecstasy to Barbaro. Barbaro was in regular contact with “The Turk”, usually by text.

Barbaro is the son of Francesco “Little Trees” Barbaro, one of the men named in the Woodward royal commission report as being an influential member of the Griffith Calabrian mafia cell which murdered anti-drug campaigner Donald Mackay in 1977.

In a trait which is common in Calabrian mafia circles, Pasquale Barbaro married his cousin, the daughter of his mother’s sister, when he was 23 and she was 18. They have four children.

In another trait which is common in Calabrian mafia circles, Barbaro became a marijuana grower — as, according to the Woodward royal commission report, his father and uncles had been before him.

And in yet another common Calabrian mafia trait, Barbaro was most comfortable committing criminal acts with close relatives he could trust — keeping it in the family is a Calabrian mafia motto. His cousin Saverio Zirilli was his right-hand man in the drug dealing that brought both of them down. Another of Barbaro’s cousins, Pasquale Sergi, of Griffith, worked alongside Barbaro and was also convicted over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust and another cousin, Domenico Barbaro, was convicted of trafficking ecstasy for the Barbaro syndicate.

Barbaro was an associate of Melbourne Calabrian mafia boss and fruit marketeer Rosario “Ross” Gangemi.

Gangemi died of natural causes at the height of Barbaro’s drug dealing in July 2008.

Barbaro was caught by the AFP in a bugged telephone conversation with fellow gang member Salvatore Agresta discussing coming down from Griffith to pay his respects at Gangemi’s funeral.

The funeral of Rosario Gangemi at St Monica's Catholic Church, Moonee Ponds.

The funeral of Rosario Gangemi at St Monica’s Catholic Church, Moonee Ponds. Source: News Limited

Mick Gatto at his funeral.

Mick Gatto at his funeral. Source: News Limited

Rosario Gangemi

Rosario Gangemi Source: Supplied

Agresta also attended Gangemi’s funeral at St Monica’s Catholic Church in Moonee Ponds on July 7, 2008, as did Mick Gatto, under the watchful eye of undercover police.

Barbaro was charged on April 16, 2009, with two counts of conspiracy to murder.

Those charges were dropped after Barbaro was jailed for life in May 2012 and ordered to serve a minimum of 30 years over his drug charges.

In rejecting a bid for bail by Barbaro, Magistrate Simon Garnet provided details of the alleged murder plots, which were outlined by Victoria Police Det-Sgt Daniel Baulch.

Evidence was given that as a result of information provided to Victoria Police by the AFP, a view was formed that Barbaro and Barbaro gang members Frank Madafferi and Graham Potter had conspired to commit murder.

Madafferi drops a bag into the boot of his car. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Madafferi drops a bag into the boot of his car. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Mick Gatto

Mick Gatto Source: News Limited

The alleged intended victims were a man Barbaro blamed for the 4.4 tonne ecstasy shipment being seized, who was a mate of underworld identity Mick Gatto, and a second man Barbaro had fallen out with.

The conspiracy to murder case against Madafferi didn’t proceed past the committal stage and Potter fled, and hasn’t been found, rather than face the drug and conspiracy to murder charges against him.

Barbaro’s bail hearing was told the prosecution would rely on physical surveillance, telephone intercept and optical and listening device material, photographs, witness statements and forensic material to support the charges.

It heard the prosecution would allege Barbaro and his overseas criminal contacts blamed Mr Gatto’s mate, whose name has been suppressed, and who the Herald Sun will call “Gatto’s mate” for the failed 2007 ecstasy shipment and wanted him killed and that Barbaro had a long standing vendetta against the second intended murder victim, who also can’t be named for legal reasons and who the Herald Sun will call “vendetta victim”.

Barbaro, Potter and Ropa pictured in North Melbourne. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Barbaro, Potter and Ropa pictured in North Melbourne. Picture: Australian Federal Police surveillance photo Source: Supplied

In his August 2010 bail hearing judgment, Magistrate Garnett said the prosecution would allege Barbaro enlisted Potter to murder (Gatto’s mate) between January and August 2008.

“It is contended that intercept material will demonstrate a number of discussions involving Mr Barbaro and others in the plan to murder (Gatto’s mate),” the judgement said.

“It will also be alleged that a note written by Mr Barbaro listing possible addresses where (Gatto’s mate) may be located was found at the Carlton premises where Mr Barbaro was staying and where firearms were located.

“It is also alleged that Mr Barbaro, Mr Madafferi and Mr Potter conspired to murder (vendetta victim) between June and July 2008.

“The prosecution intend to rely on intercept material, physical surveillance and the evidence of Witness A, who will allegedly give evidence that Mr Barbaro asked him in June 2008 whether he had killed someone before and if he was interested in doing so for $100,000.

“Sgt Baulch told the court that surveillance material will reveal a plan by Mr Barbaro and others to attend the Reggio Calabria Club on July 24, 2008, to murder (vendetta victim).

“The prosecution will allege that arrangements were made to obtain a ‘clean car’ and to lure (vendetta victim) to an appropriate location.

“It will also be alleged that on July 24, 2008, firearms and ammunition subsequently seized from the residence where Mr Barbaro was staying in Carlton were given by Mr Barbaro to Mr Potter to use in the murder of (vendetta victim).

Guns found buried in the garden of Barbaro’s Carlton flat. Picture: Australian Federal Po

Guns found buried in the garden of Barbaro’s Carlton flat. Picture: Australian Federal Police evidence photo Source: Supplied

“It is alleged that the plan failed when the ‘clean car’ they had obtained broke down on the way to the club and (vendetta victim) left before Mr Potter, Mr Barbaro and Witness A arrived.

“Sgt Baulch told the court that forensic evidence will reveal the presence of gunshot residue in the ‘clean car’.

Barbaro, Zirilli, Polimeni and Potter tried to jump-start the Magna in Carlton North. Pic

Barbaro, Zirilli, Polimeni and Potter tried to jump-start the Magna in Carlton North. Picture: AFP surveillance. Source: Supplied

“Sgt Baulch told the court that in his view Mr Barbaro, if released on bail, would be a risk of failing to answer bail, endangering the safety and welfare of others and interfering with witnesses.

“He also told the court that on February 2 and 3, 2010, whilst remanded, Mr Barbaro made threats to a prosecution witness who was also in custody in relation to another matter.

“It is alleged that Mr Barbaro told this person words to the effect ‘you’re a dog, you know what happens to a dog in a place like this’.

Barbaro and Potter meet in the Red Rooster car park at Westmeadows. Picture: Australian F

Barbaro and Potter meet in the Red Rooster car park at Westmeadows. Picture: Australian Federal Police surveillance photo Source: Supplied

“In relation to the safety of Witness A, Sgt Baulch told the court that information in his possession suggested an associate of Mr Barbaro has tried to contact this witness.

“He agreed that Mr Madafferi had been granted bail and the magistrate who granted bail noted one of the reasons being the lack of strength of the prosecution case.”

Police believe there were also failed plans to try to murder Gatto’s mate at Gatto’s son’s wedding in March 2008 and after a kickboxing tournament the night before the Gatto wedding.

Det-Sgt Baulch said during one of Barbaro’s court appearances that Barbaro believed Gatto’s mate had either stolen drugs belonging to Barbaro’s gang or had caused them to be seized by police.

Police believed there were plans to kill Gatto’s mate at Mick Gatto’s son Damien’s weddin

Police believed there were plans to kill Gatto’s mate at Mick Gatto’s son Damien’s wedding. Source: News Corp Australia

“Barbaro sourced and co-ordinated the obtaining of firearms and vehicles for the murder,” Det-Sgt Baulch told the court.

“On March 28, 2008, it is believed that an attempt was made to murder (Gatto’s mate) at a boxing event held at Docklands.

“Barbaro and others identified (Gatto’s mate’s) vehicle in the car park at the event and an attempt was made to shoot (Gatto’s mate) upon returning to his vehicle.”

The alleged plan was aborted at the last minute because the getaway car had mechanical problems, the court was told.

Barbaro got his first cannabis cultivation charge in 1990. In 1998 he was convicted at the Griffith Magistrates’ Court of preventing a witness from attending.

Supreme Court Judge Betty King said in sentencing Barbaro in 2012 that “over the period of 1990 through to almost 2000 you were dealing with substantial offences of cultivation of cannabis”.

One of the charges related to a crop of 20,000 marijuana plants Barbaro was growing on a farm south of Griffith.

Barbaro was jailed for 14 years over those offences, but only served two years as after numerous appeals and retrials the Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to proceed with the matter — freeing Barbaro to graduate from dope growing to massive importations of ecstasy and other drugs.

Another profile. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Another profile. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Rob Karam. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Rob Karam. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

ROB KARAM, 48, formerly of Derby St, Kew.

Nickname: “Pizza” (because of the type of restaurant he chose to meet gang members in to discuss secret business, usually Café Romantica in Lygon St, Brunswick, or Curly Joe’s in Maribyrnong), Tardo (because he was always late to meetings and slow to pay his debts), Cream or Ice Cream (a play on words relating to his surname as well as an indication of his fondness for attending a gelato bar in Lygon St).

Found guilty of conspiring to import the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy. Jailed for 19 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 15. Awaiting further sentencing after being convicted of other drug offences.

Karam’s experience working in the customs clearance and international freight forwarding industries, as well as his network of corrupt dock and shipping industry contacts, have made him the go to man for decades for organised crime bosses wanting to import drugs to Australia in shipping containers.

He helped convicted drug boss Tony Mokbel get tonnes of drugs worth billions of dollars into Melbourne, was the man Pasquale Barbaro went to when he wanted millions of ecstasy tablets shipped from Italy to Melbourne. He also worked with other major drug importers.

It was Karam’s job to identify legitimate importing businesses in Melbourne that were unlikely to attract the attention of Customs when containers arrived that appeared to be destined for delivery to these legitimate companies.

Falsified shipping documents organised by Karam to look genuine meant the phone number freight forwarding companies rang to arrange delivery of containers in the belief it was the number of the legitimate company was actually the phone number of a drug smuggling gang member.

Karam also organised what are known in underworld circles as piggy back importations.

The piggy back method involves having corrupt dock workers overseas and in Melbourne.

Karam would identify a Melbourne company which was legitimately importing goods from such places as South America.

Corrupt waterside workers would put illegal drugs in with the legitimate shipment and then seal the container so Customs in Melbourne would not suspect the cargo had been tampered with and that illegal drugs were piggy backing with a legitimate cargo.

Corrupt dock workers in Melbourne would get to the container as soon as it was unloaded, break open the seal, take out the drugs and then reseal the container so the legitimate cargo could go on its merry way.

One of the charges Karam and Barbaro were convicted over involved 150kg of cocaine that arrived in Melbourne via the old piggy back trick.

Karam was secretly taped by an undercover police officer in Hong Kong as he negotiated to buy 26 tonnes of chemicals to be shipped to Mexico and Australia to make ice.

He asked the undercover cop, who was posing as a Chinese organised crime figure, if he could also buy guns to smuggle into Australia.

SAVERIO ZIRILLI, 58, formerly of Whites Rd, Tharbogang, near Griffith.

Nicknames: “Baldy” (because he is).

Saverio Zirilli. Picture: AFP

Saverio Zirilli. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess a commercial quantity of ecstasy, trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy and aiding and abetting the importation of a commercial quantity of cocaine.

Sentenced to 26 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 18.

A cousin of Barbaro and Barbaro’s most trusted associate.

No previous convictions.

Played a leadership role in the Barbaro syndicate, but deferred to Barbaro.

Zirilli stuck to the Calabrian mafia code of omerta after his arrest. Omerta involves members maintaining absolute silence when questioned about the illegal activities of fellow cell members.

Forensic psychologist Stephen Woods gave evidence to the court that when Zirilli was asked about the nature of his offending and why he got involved he replied that he couldn’t make any comment as to do so would place his own life at risk and, of greater concern to him, the lives of his wife and four children.

Sentencing judge Betty King said Zirilli was dealing in massive amounts of drugs over a long period.

“This was not an example of a crime where you, as a result of being pushed, or angry, or suffering financial hardship had determined to do something totally out of character and then stop,” Justice King told Zirilli.

“This continued on for a substantial period of time.

“You were in a lesser role undoubtedly than that of Pasquale Barbaro but you were, equally, his right hand man and that makes you relatively high in the hierarchy of offending of those before the court.

“You are not, to give an example, a street level trafficker involved in selling small amounts of pills.

“You are assisting Barbaro to deal with, obtain and traffick some 15 million ecstasy tablets.

“You go in his stead to meet the European suppliers, which is an indication of the high level of trust in which you are held and your position within the hierarchy of this organisation.”

Police who raided Zirilli’s Griffith home on the day various Barbaro gang members were arrested in 2008 found he was a man who liked to be prepared.

He had a shotgun under his bed and several boxes of viagra in a bedside table.

GRAHAM POTTER, 57, formerly of Pipers River Rd, Pipers River, Tasmania. Nickname: “Devil”(as in Tasmanian devil).

Graham Potter. Picture: AFP

Graham Potter. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

One of Australia’s most wanted men.

Charged with trafficking a commercial quantity of ecstasy provided by the Barbaro syndicate. Also charged with conspiring to murder two men, one of them an enemy of Barbaro and the other the man blamed by the Barbaro syndicate for the 4.4 tonne shipment of ecstasy being seized by police — that man is a mate of underworld identity Mick Gatto.

One of the failed murder plots Potter was charged over was to have taken place at the wedding of one of Gatto’s sons.

Barbaro, who first met Potter in jail, was charged over the failed murder plots, with police claiming Barbaro hired Potter to kill the two men. Barbaro’s conspiracy to murder charge was dropped after he was sentenced to life with a 30-year-minimum over his drug charges.

The guns Potter allegedly intended using to commit the two murders were found buried in the garden of Barbaro’s Carlton love nest.

Potter fled after being given bail and is still missing.

He is known in the underworld as the ‘head and fingers killer’

So called because of what he did to 19-year-old Kim Narelle Barry in 1981.

He met Ms Barry on the dance floor at a Wollongong disco while at his buck’s night.

Potter, a coal miner at the time, took her back to his flat and killed her with two blows to the head, crushing her skull.

Authorities retrieve Ms Barry’s body.

Authorities retrieve Ms Barry’s body. Source: News Corp Australia

Kim Narelle Barry

Kim Narelle Barry Source: News Corp Australia

Evidence police gathered later suggested Ms Barry was attacked because she refused to have sex with Potter after discovering he was about to be married.

Potter put Ms Barry’s body in a bath and used a hacksaw to decapitate her before chopping off her fingers in the hope of hiding her identity if her body was found.

Potter threw Ms Barry’s naked body over the side of a cliff at Jamberoo Lookout, near Wollongong.

The body got caught in tree foliage and ended up on a ledge wedged against a tree, where it was found two days later.

A bag containing her skull and severed fingers was found three weeks later.

Potter was last seen fleeing from a car during a routine vehicle inspection by police in Tully, Queensland, in August 2010. A later search of a caravan park Potter had been staying in at Tully found his abandoned tent and other possessions.

FRANCESCO MADAFFERI, 54, lived in Hermitage Drive, Greenvale and ran Mondo Fruit in Sydney Rd, Coburg up until his arrest in 2008.

Francesco Madafferi. Picture: AFP.

Francesco Madafferi. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Nicknames: “Fruit” (because of his business), “Chiccio”, “Pacho” (a diminutive from the Calabrese “pacciu”, meaning crazy or mad), “Madman” (because he was).

Found guilty of trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy. Jailed for 10 years and ordered to serve a minimum of seven.

Senior Calabrian mafia member in Victoria.

He was a major drug dealer within months of former federal minister Amanda Vanstone overturning a decision to deport him.

The lifting of court suppression orders enables the Herald Sun to reveal details of death threats made by Madafferi.

Police secretly taped him threatening to chop an associate “into little pieces” after he won his nine-year legal battle to stay in Australia.

Madafferi’s Coburg fruit and vegetable shop.

Madafferi’s Coburg fruit and vegetable shop. Source: News Limited

Madafferi was a drug dealer for the Calabrian mafia dominated gang charged by the AFP over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

Members of that syndicate were nabbed in 2008 after they imported 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy into Melbourne from Italy.

Ms Vanstone, the then Immigration Minister, granted Madafferi a permanent spouse visa in 2005.

An early mugshot of Francesco Madafferi

An early mugshot of Francesco Madafferi Source: News Corp Australia

That reversed a 2000 decision by her predecessor, Philip Ruddock, to refuse him a visa on the ground he was of bad character.

Mr Ruddock said it would be against the national interest to allow Madafferi to stay in Australia.

He made that decision after Victoria Police claimed if Madafferi was allowed to stay he would “continue to carry out acts of violence on behalf of an organised crime syndicate”.

Victoria Police claimed then that Madafferi “belongs to a crime family involved with blackmail, extortion and murder”.

Just three years after Ms Vanstone rescued Madafferi from deportation he was taped by police telling fellow Calabrian mafia drug dealer Pasquale Barbaro he intended kidnapping criminal associate Pino Varallo so he could “tear his head off and chop him into little pieces”.

Pino Varallo. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Pino Varallo. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

A scared Varallo rang Barbaro on July 26, 2008, and as the AFP listened he said he had recently spoken to Madafferi and that Madafferi was “going off his rocker” and was “off his tree” and had threatened slit Varallo’s throat or shoot him.

Madafferi also bragged in another taped conversation that while Barbaro controlled drug operations interstate “Melbourne is mine”.

He angrily warned Varallo to not “break my f…..g balls on my f…… turf” and that he, not Barbaro, was “responsible for Melbourne”.

Madafferi was charged in 2009 with conspiracy to murder in relation to yet another falling out, but the charges didn’t proceed past the Magistrates’ Court committal stage.

He failed to reveal convictions in Italy for stabbings, extortion and drug offences when he came to Australia in 1989 on a six-month visitor’s visa and stayed illegally.

He married Australian citizen Anna La Verde the following year and the couple had four children.

Madafferi was caught and detained as an illegal immigrant in 1996 after a raid by Immigration Department officers and detectives from Victoria Police’s organised crime squad.

There was an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Italy at the time, where he faced almost five years’ jail on unserved sentences for violence and dishonesty offences.

Madafferi had also served jail time in Italy for kidnapping, mafia conspiracy, theft and other offences against the person — he was released from prison in 1987.

Madafferi pictured in 2001.

Madafferi pictured in 2001. Source: News Limited

Documents seen by the Herald Sun reveal Mr Ruddock’s 2000 decision not to grant Madafferi a visa was based on his view that allowing Madafferi to stay in Australia would have a detrimental effect on Australia’s reputation and good name in the international community.

“On balance, I found that due to the seriousness of Mr Madafferi’s convictions and his outstanding warrant of arrest and sentence in Italy, it would be in the national interest to refuse his visa,” Mr Ruddock’s said in a 2000 document sent to Madafferi’s lawyers.

Mr Ruddock’s 2000 decision not to grant Madafferi a visa was upheld in 2002 by the full bench of the Federal Court.

Former Senator Vanstone confirmed to the Herald Sun in 2006 that Madafferi had later been given a permanent spouse visa.

“Given all the circumstances surrounding the case I believe it was appropriate to grant the visa,” she said then.

Former Senator Amanda Vanstone

Former Senator Amanda Vanstone Source: News Limited

Madafferi was dealing drugs just months later.

He was heavily involved with various members of the Barbaro drug gang, and was selling ecstasy provided by Barbaro gang members.

AFP agents secretly taped Barbaro and Madafferi discussing drug deals.

Surveillance officers also secretly watched Barbaro and Madafferi when they flew to Perth together on May 19, 2008, to organise interstate drug deals, with Madafferi introducing Barbaro to Perth-based Calabrian mafia drug dealers.

Madafferi and Barbaro were both arrested on August 8, 2008, by AFP agents.

Documents seized from an apartment in Little Palmerston St, Carlton, which Barbaro used when visiting Melbourne from his home in Griffith, revealed precise details of the ecstasy supplied to Madafferi by the Barbaro syndicate.

Barbaro’s business records showed Madafferi received 57,000 ecstasy tablets between February and May 2008, and that he also helped Barbaro traffic a further 35,000 pills to a Perth drug gang.

Madafferi’s brother Tony was banned from Crown casino by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay in 2014 under the same powers used to previously ban drug boss Tony Mokbel and various other underworld figures, including Mick Gatto, from the gambling mecca.

Allegations that Tony Madafferi was a hitman for the Calabrian mafia and a prospective Godfather of the Italian secret society were aired in court during the 1993 inquest into the death of fruiterer Alfonso Muratore.

The coroner rejected a bid by Tony Madafferi’s lawyer, Colin Lovitt, QC, to suppress the claims — but the coroner did warn the media that the allegations were simply that, allegations, and should not be reported as fact.

Tony Madafferi has denied the claims and has not been charged in relation to any of the allegations made against him during the Muratore inquest.

CARMELO FALANGA, 49, formerly of Lacey Rd, Bugle Ranges, South Australia.

Carmelo Falanga. Picture: AFP

Carmelo Falanga. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Nicknames: “Sticks” (because he walked with one), “Fingers” (a word play on his surname) and “Choc” (a politically incorrect reference to his dark skin).

Found guilty of conspiracy to import the 4.4 tonne shipment of ecstasy from Italy. Sentenced to 23 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 16 years and 6 months.

Senior and powerful Italian organised crime figure in South Australia. He and Barbaro financed the importation of the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy from Italy and they became liable to each pay $5 million to the European syndicate to compensate it after the 15 million pills were seized by the AFP in Melbourne.

Falanga was arrested on August 8, 2008, over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust.

He was released on bail two weeks later and went back to SA, where he started drug dealing again.

Falanga pictured getting into a Landcruiser outside the Marriott Hotel. Picture: Australi

Falanga pictured getting into a Landcruiser outside the Marriott Hotel. Picture: Australian Federal Police. Source: Supplied

Falanga was jailed over drug and weapons offences in SA for nine years in 2012.

Evidence was given at his SA trial that police found Falanga’s homemade fully automatic submachine gun and his .357 revolver, along with ammunition for both, hidden in the ceiling of a sauna.

Falanga is arrested after a siege at his property.

Falanga is arrested after a siege at his property. Source: News Limited

When police went to search a Falanga property in SA in July 2011 he refused to allow them access and fired off four shots from a .38 calibre handgun.

Police eventually got into the property and found Falanga’s meth lab.

JOHN HIGGS, 68, formerly of Belair Court, Taylors Lakes.

Higgs following his arrest. Picture: AFP.

Higgs following his arrest. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

John Higgs. Picture: AFP

John Higgs. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Teeth” (because he has bad ones).

Found guilty of conspiracy to import the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy into Melbourne.

Jailed for 18 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 14.

Higgs is a convicted killer and is the founding member of the Melbourne chapter of the Black Uhlans bikie gang.

He was one of three major criminals who organised and paid corrupt police to carry out the burglary of the Victoria Police drug squad office in St Kilda Rd in 1996.

The burglary was committed to steal documents which would identify the key prosecution witness against Higgs, who was in witness protection and codenamed E2/92.

It happened shortly before E2/92, whose identity is still suppressed, was due to give evidence against Higgs.

Police believe Higgs organised the drug squad burglary so E2/92 could be identified, tracked down and executed before he could testify.

Former homicide squad boss Peter Halloran rang E2/92 in Europe immediately after the burglary and warned him he should change addresses quickly as “the crooks know who you are and where you live”.

Despite that attempt on his life, E2/92 returned to Melbourne and bravely gave evidence against Higgs and six other major criminals.

Higgs ran Australia’s biggest amphetamine gang for years until Victoria Police caught him in 1994 with seven tonnes of chemicals capable of making 226kg of illegal drugs worth more than $400 million.

Higgs was caught with enough chemicals to make amphetamines worth $406 million.

Higgs was caught with enough chemicals to make amphetamines worth $406 million. Source: News Limited

He was jailed in 1999 for just six years, with a minimum of four, over that and got straight back into major drug dealing on his release.

Higgs was recruited into Barbaro’s gang because of his corrupt painter and docker contacts on the wharves and his strong links to the bikie gangs. Bikies would have become major buyers of some of the 15 million ecstasy tablets if they hadn’t been seized.

AFP surveillance officers watched as Higgs held meetings with senior members of the Hells Angels as well as Comancheros bikie Mohammed Oueida.

Oueida was later jailed for drug trafficking.

The AFP discovered Oueida had his own plane, $6 million in a Swiss bank account and a $2.8 million fortified property in Greenvale, which came with its own golf course.

Bikie Mohammed Charif Oueida’s Ferrari was among property worth almost $5 million that wa

Bikie Mohammed Charif Oueida’s Ferrari was among property worth almost $5 million that was seized by a joint Victoria Police/AFP taskforce in April, 2011. Source: Supplied

Higgs wasn’t fully trusted by Barbaro and other Calabrian mafia gang members because of his fondness for sampling the illegal drugs he was supposed to be selling and his rampant sex life, often with young prostitutes.

Senior Barbaro gang member Jan Visser was secretly taped by the AFP telling Barbaro’s cousin Zirilli about Higgs: “He is the way he is. We have to accept the way he is and now and again the speed and the ice is just a little bit too much for him. He f…ing hallucinates and he sees things and has 24-year-old girlfriends and stuff like that.”

John Higgs is led from the Supreme Court into a waiting prison van.

John Higgs is led from the Supreme Court into a waiting prison van. Source: News Limited

The Barbaro gang members put up with Higgs and his dangerous drug and sex habits because he had the contacts they needed to get drugs off the docks and was closely connected to Karam.

Karam’s dealings with Barbaro were initially all through Higgs as Karam wanted to stay as hands off as possible to avoid detection.

Higgs’s life of crime started at an early age. He left school at the end of Year 7 and got the first of his many adult convictions at the age of 20 in 1966.

He married at the age of 17 to a 16-year-old.

Two children from that marriage died in tragic circumstances. Higgs’s eldest son Craig was murdered in 1999 while his second son died of AIDS at the age of 30 in 1996.

Higgs’s marriage ended in 1970 after he was jailed for 12 years for manslaughter, although he got out in less than nine.

He started another relationship soon after being released and fathered another two sons before that relationship also ended.

At the time of his sentencing in 2013 he was in a relationship with a woman less than half his age. He fathered a child with her in 2011 when he was aged 64.

JAN VISSER, 64, of no fixed abode, having been on the run as a prison escapee at the time of his arrest.

Jan Visser. Picture: AFP.

Jan Visser. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Found guilty of conspiring to import the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy into Melbourne. Sentenced to 11 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 8.

Visser was born in the Netherlands, but came to live in Australia in 1961 at the age of 10.

A career criminal and father of six who was a close associate of Barbaro and Zirilli. He was there to do whatever Barbaro and Zirilli wanted in relation to receiving the 15 million pills and distributing them.

Visser described his role to Barbaro gang members as a fixer, a resource on hand and available to others should they need him to salvage their criminal venture, which was foundering and at risk of failure.

He was secretly taped telling gang member Pasquale Sergi his role in the gang was that of a “tugboat”, getting the salvage team ready.

AFP bugs caught him bragging that he would “run an armed team” onto the docks and get a corrupt crane driver to lift the container of pills onto the back of a truck.

Visser was a prison escapee and on the run from police in NSW at the time he was working with Barbaro on the 4.4 tonne ecstasy importation. He escaped from the court cells while waiting to appear on drug charges.

Visser escaped by pretending to be another prisoner who was due to be released on bail.

That prisoner was asleep in the same cell as Visser in April 2007 when a prison officer came in and asked which of them was due out on bail. Visser seized the opportunity to assume the other prisoner’s identity and walked free.

He fled to Melbourne and immediately started working for Barbaro, who he had done jail time with in the past.

Barbaro got Visser a fake passport later in 2007 so Visser could flee back to the Netherlands, where he was born, to avoid capture.

He was arrested in May 2008 when he flew into Melbourne and was immediately extradited back to NSW in relation to the outstanding drug matters and escaping custody.

Visser thought he was home free when he was granted parole in August 2012 after serving just over four years on the NSW drug and escaping charges.

What he didn’t know was the AFP had been waiting for his release so they could charge him over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust. AFP agents grabbed him as he walked out of jail and told him he was being extradited to Melbourne, where he stood trial in April 2014 and was found guilty.

His long and violent criminal history includes a 1984 conviction for two counts of causing grievous bodily harm with intent to murder, three counts of maliciously causing grievous bodily harm by explosion and one count of threatening to use an offensive weapon to try to avoid arrest.

Visser was jailed for life over those charges, but appealed and eventually got a minimum term of 13 years and six months.

SALVATORE AGRESTA, 47, Prospect Drive, Keilor East.

Salvatore Agresta. Picture: AFP

Salvatore Agresta. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Sam” (anglicized version of his first name), “Sandwich” (because he made them at his cafe).

Found guilty of conspiracy to import the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy and pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy. Jailed for 12 years over the conspiracy and 10 years for trafficking — ordered to serve a minimum of 11 years.

Owner of the Ascot Pasta and Deli Café in Union Rd, Ascot Vale, where underworld figure Des ‘Tuppence’ Moran was executed in June 2009.

Agresta — who was out on bail at the time over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust charges — and his wife were in their deli when Moran was shot dead. They watched in horror as a masked gunman pumped seven rounds into Moran in the doorway of what was his favourite cafe.

Former Rebels bikie gang president Geoffrey ‘Nuts’ Armour was convicted of murdering Moran in a plot instigated by Moran’s sister-in-law, Judy Moran, who was also convicted over the murder.

Agresta used to work for major freight handler Patricks and was a close associate of Barbaro and Zirilli, who brought him in after the 4.4 tonne shipment of ecstasy arrived in the hope he could use his corrupt shipping industry contacts to help obtain access to the container.

Also sold almost 120,000 ecstasy pills for the Barbaro syndicate. Was trusted enough by Barbaro that he received the pills on credit and only had to pay Barbaro back once he had sold the pills.

Agresta stored large quantities of ecstasy pills at his elderly father’s house for the Barbaro syndicate.

Has prior convictions for possession and use of weapons, property damage, assaults, resisting arrest, hindering police and possession and use of cocaine.

SHARON ROPA, 44, formerly of Little Palmerston St, Carlton.

Sharon Ropa. Picture: AFP.

Sharon Ropa. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Blondie” (because she was).

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy, dealing with $1 million or more of the proceeds of crime and possession of property reasonably suspected to be the proceeds of crime.

Jailed for nine years and 6 months and ordered to serve a minimum of seven.

Was Barbaro’s Melbourne mistress and was naked in bed with Barbaro when the AFP raided their Carlton love nest at 4am on August 8, 2008.

Barbaro got to know Ropa after he did jail time with Ropa’s former partner. He promised Ropa’s ex he would look after Ropa when he got out.

Ropa kept meticulous records of who in Barbaro’s gang had been provided with what amount of drugs and how much each trafficker had paid Barbaro and owed Barbaro.

The AFP seized those records during the raid on the Carlton apartment Ropa rented for her and Barbaro and used the records as evidence in the trials of those charged over the world’s biggest ecstasy bust and other drug offences involving the Barbaro syndicate

It was Ropa who took bags of cash to Melbourne money launderers to send to the European gang that shipped the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy from Italy.

She was clearly part of Barbaro’s inner circle and was present during many secretly taped conversations in which Barbaro discussed and organised large scale drug dealing with associates.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Jeanette Moir gave evidence at Ropa’s court case that she had been treating Ropa for depression since before Ropa’s arrest in August 2008.

Dr Moir said Ropa had been in abusive relationships with a number of men, but that Barbaro had not been physically abusive towards her.

Ropa told Dr Moir she respected Barbaro and the males associated with him and described her relationship with Barbaro as being “putty in his hands”.

Dr Moir said Ropa’s ongoing focus in life “was to have a male to be with, no matter what the personal cost”.

Forensic psychologist Jeffrey Cummins provided a report during Ropa’s court case which revealed that Ropa told him she was also in a sexual relationship with Alan Saric, one of the drug dealers she was supplying ecstasy to.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Danny Sullivan gave evidence during Ropa’s court case about his dealings with Ropa.

Dr Sullivan said Ropa was enthralled by Barbaro during the time she and he were drug dealing and that she had a dependent personality style.

Ropa and Potter snapped by AFP surveillance in Lygon Street, Carlton. Picture: AFP.

Ropa and Potter snapped by AFP surveillance in Lygon Street, Carlton. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

“Her behaviour at the time was not so much that she was impressed with the importance of her position in this enterprise, but rather she was more impressed with the regard in which she considered Mr Barbaro held her as a consequence of her behaviours,” Dr Sullivan said.

“So in that sense, I would describe her as beholden, in the sense that she would do anything for him to gain his respect, his adulation, his admiration or his ongoing company.

“The reason I think she was able to continue engaging in such behaviour so continually was because of her desire to please Mr Barbaro.”

Prosecutor Brent Young said: “The evidence clearly reveals that Ms Ropa was obviously emotionally infatuated with Barbaro. She wanted to establish better her worth for him to gain his favour and to thereby inspire his affection.”

County Court sentencing Judge James Montgomery told the court that after Barbaro was arrested and remanded in custody he “sent” a man to Ropa, who was out on bail at the time.

The judge said Ropa formed a relationship with that man and it turned into a violent one as he “attempted to place pressure on you”.

“It was put by your counsel that you have had an unfortunate history in your choice of male partners,” Justice Montgomery told Ropa when he jailed her.

“I cannot but agree.”

While Ropa obviously idolised Barbaro, he demonstrated in conversations recorded by the AFP that he didn’t have much respect for her and considered her to be a sexual plaything that would also cook and clean for him.

Barbaro was on the phone on May 30, 2008, arranging for gang member Agresta to meet Ropa, saying he would have to “meet the bitch later”.

In a bugged conversation with Melbourne Calabrian mafia heavy Francesco Madafferi on July 1, 2008, Barbaro sneeringly referred to Ropa as “the tart”.

Ropa and Zirilli were secretly taped by the AFP on May 14, 2008, as they discussed the role of women in the Calabrian mafia.

Ropa said: “Is that what I am, a mafia moll?”

Zirilli replied: “Nah, get f…ed, you’re a mafia secretary.”

 PASQUALE SERGI, 51, formerly of North Grove Drive, Griffith.

Nicknames: “Poppy” and “Fatso” (because he was).

Pasquale Sergi. Picture: AFP.

Pasquale Sergi. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Found guilty of conspiring to import the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy and pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for 16 years and ordered to serve a minimum of eight years and three months.

Griffith-based and a cousin of Calabrian mafia boss Pasquale Barbaro.

Described in court as one of Barbaro’s foot soldiers, willing and waiting to do whatever Barbaro asked.

Airline and Immigration records show Sergi was in Italy in May 2007 when the shipping container containing the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy was loaded in Naples.

Police suspect Barbaro sent him there to supervise the loading of the 15 million pills onto the MV Monica for the voyage to Melbourne.

Sergi was a regular visitor to the Melbourne apartment Barbaro shared with his lover Sharon Ropa and was secretly recorded taking part in drug dealing discussions with Barbaro, Ropa and other gang members.

It was Sergi who Barbaro got to dig a hole in the love nest’s garden to hide, drugs, guns and money in.

The married father of four was sleeping in Barbaro and Ropa’s apartment when the AFP raided it to make arrests in August 2008.

Sentencing judge Felicity Hampel said she was satisfied Sergi was aware of Barbaro’s drug dealing and was prepared to assist Barbaro with whatever he needed.

“You were present when discussions took place about supply generally, about prices, about collection of money and return of broken tablets for re-pressing,” Justice Hampel told Sergi.

“You knew where money and drugs were stored and concealed, who the customers were and how some of the supplies to customers were arranged.

“You may have been an underling, but you were an enthusiastic and willing participant in the enterprise.”

DOMENICO BARBARO, 47, formerly of Todd Rd, Lake Wyangan, near Griffith, NSW.

Domenico Barbaro. Picture: AFP.

Domenico Barbaro. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Bubble” (as a result of how he used to pronounce his surname when he was a child).

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for seven years and ordered to serve a minimum of five.

Another of gang boss Pasquale Barbaro’s cousins.

His father is a convicted drug grower and evidence was given during the case that Domenico Barbaro admitted his father lost his leg after being shot over a dispute relating to his marijuana growing.

Evidence was given that Domenico Barbaro was a follower rather than a leader and that he felt an obligation to help his older cousin Pasquale Barbaro in the Barbaro drug syndicate.

GIOVANNI POLIMENI, 42, formerly of Wyanga Ave, Griffith.

Giovanni Polimeni. Picture: AFP.

Giovanni Polimeni. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the importation of 150kg of cocaine. Jaioed for 18 years and ordered to serve a minimum of 12.

The Polimeni and Barbaro families of Griffith have been close for decades.

Sentencing judge James Montgomery outlined background provided by Polimeni’s lawyer.

“Barbaro was a very successful farmer in the Griffith area, indeed had a reputation for mediating disputes, which he did on a number of occasions for the Polimeni family, particularly in relation to a dispute with a Casella family, a well-known wine family at Griffith,” Justice Montgomery told Polimeni during his County Court sentencing hearing.

“This led to Mr Shaw (Polimeni’s lawyer) to make his second point, that the relationship with Barbaro arose out of the family ties between the two families and he told me that you felt a sense of gratitude and obligation to Barbaro.”

Polimeni was senior enough in Barbaro’s Calabrian mafia cell to be trusted to travel, at Barbaro’s expense, to Europe to meet the European drug trafficking syndicate which was supplying Barbaro with ecstasy and cocaine. Polimeni travelled with Barbaro’s cousin Saverio Zirilli in March 2008 to negotiate with the Europeans.

Polimeni also travelled with Zirilli from Griffith to Melbourne on the date of the arrival of the container containing the 150kg of cocaine. He remained in Melbourne until it was realised that all hope of obtaining safe possession of the cocaine was gone as it had been seized by the AFP.

Polimeni was secretly taped by police as he explained to other gang members exactly how the cocaine had been packed in the container.

PHILLIP BATTICCIOTTO, 53, formerly of Bugden Ave, Fadden, ACT.

Phillip Batticciotto. Picture: AFP.

Phillip Batticciotto. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Found guilty of conspiracy to import 100kg of precursor chemicals to make amphetamines.

Jailed for 10 years and ordered to serve a minimum of seven.

Went to school at St Joseph’s primary in Collingwood during seven years spent in Melbourne, where his father ran a butcher shop.

Became a butcher himself and ran the family wholesale meat business in Canberra since 1996.

Married to Pasquale Barbaro’s cousin and has four children.

Barbaro was recorded by the AFP telling Batticciotto he was planning to open a Tepanyaki-style Japanese restaurant in Griffith and suggested to Batticciotto that he become a partner in it, which Batticciotto enthusiastically agreed to.

SEVERINO SCARPONI, 45, formerly of Allinga Ave, Glenside, South Australia.

Severino Scarponi

Severino Scarponi Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy, conspiring to import a commercial quantity of drug-making chemicals and possessing the proceeds of crime.

Jailed for nine years and ordered to serve a minimum of six.

His lawyer told the court he was “in awe” of Barbaro and even though Scarponi knew Barbaro was a dangerous man he came to admire him and was happy to deal drugs for him.

Scarponi, the owner of an Adelaide trucking company, was used by Barbaro to arrange transportation of almost 500,000 ecstasy tablets from Sydney to Melbourne.

He was also going to be used to transport the 150kg shipment of cocaine to Griffith if it hadn’t been seized by the AFP.

GRATIAN BRAN, 57, formerly of Mernda Ave, Cheltenham.

Gratian Bran. Picture: AFP.

Gratian Bran. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for seven years and ordered to serve a minimum of five.

Mr X, who can’t be identified but who is a senior member of the European gang which supplied the 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy, got Bran involved in drug dealing.

Bran served time in a Romanian jail for trying to escape from military service.

He knew Mr X in Europe through working for his family export business.

Bran contacted Mr X in Europe from Melbourne in 2007, seeking help from Mr X to export wine to Europe from Australia.

Bran’s lawyers claimed he only got involved in drug dealing so Mr X would help him with his wine exporting business.

Sentencing judge James Montgomery said Bran was involved in trafficking 20,000 ecstasy tablets and the money laundering of at least $1.94 million, knowing it was money from the proceeds of crime.

Ecstasy gang leader Pasquale Barbaro was caught on tape by police as he explained to Bran how foolish drug boss Tony Mokbel was to have got caught on the run in Greece.

Barbaro claimed to Bran that he had a number of friends who had successfully evaded police by fleeing overseas and lying low.

A listening device in Barbaro’s Carlton apartment recorded him talking to Bran after the pair had just watched a news report about Mokbel’s capture in Greece.

Barbaro told Bran Mokbel was “stupid” and a “goose” and that he should have gone to Lebanon rather than sitting on the beach in Greece.

“Go to the f…ing mountains of Lebanon,” Barbaro told Bran.

“Live like a king, mate they drink champagne and eat f…ing fish all day.

“They’ve got things underground, five star houses over there underground.

“What’s money? I would rather be poor and be free than a millionaire and be in jail, f..k that.”

Bran himself was taped by the AFP in a conversation with Barbaro in which Bran offered to send some heavy debt collectors he knew to punish Rob Karam over money Karam owed the Barbaro gang.

Barbaro replied saying he had told Karam he would pay at the end of the day “either in money, or with his life”.

ANTONIO DI PIETRO, 48, formerly of Pound Rd, Narre Warren.

Antonio Di Pietro: Picture: AFP.

Antonio Di Pietro: Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Truck” (because he worked at transport company) and “Elvis” (as a result of his slicked back hair).

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for seven years and ordered to serve a minimum of four years and six months.

Long term associate of gang boss Pasquale Barbaro. Acted as an intermediary between Barbaro and Frank Madafferi as he knew them both.

PINO VARALLO, 46, formerly of Mount Pleasant Rd, Eltham.

Nickname: Tiles (because he laid them).

Pino Varallo. Picture: Australian Federal Police

Pino Varallo. Picture: Australian Federal Police Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for eight years and six months and ordered to serve a minimum of five years.

His lawyer claimed he met Barbaro through doing a large tiling job on Barbaro’s brother’s house in Griffith and that Barbaro told him he could make a lot of money if he sold ecstasy pills in Melbourne for him.

Sentencing judge James Montgomery told Varallo drug users relied on people being prepared to sell to them.

“You entered into your association with Mr Barbaro for a profit,” Justice Montgomery said.

“You were a businessman in difficult financial circumstances who succumbed to the temptation of being involved in the drug trafficking world as a way to make a quick and easy profit to rescue your finances.”

ANIL SURI, 59, formerly of Clarendon St, Maidstone.

Anil Suri. Picture: AFP

Anil Suri. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Convicted of conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of precursor chemicals to make amphetamines.

Jailed for 11 years and initially ordered to serve a minimum of nine years. His minimum term was dropped to eight years on appeal.

His role was to source and then oversee the export of 100kg of chemicals from India to Melbourne to make ice.

As it turned out, Suri’s criminal contacts in India were not as good as the Barbaro gang thought as the gang in India shipped 100kg of useless chemicals in a classic drug rip off where buyers pay for one drug and get something different.

ALAN SARIC, 41, formerly of Conquest Drive, Werribee.

Alan Saric

Alan Saric Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for six years and ordered to serve a minimum of three years and six months.

Shared something apart from drug dealing with gang boss Pasquale Barbaro — they were both having sex with fellow syndicate member Sharon Ropa.

Sentencing judge James Montgomery outlined the background provided to the court by Saric’s lawyer.

“Prior to your involvement with Ms Ropa you were married, you were running a construction business,” Justice Montgomery told Saric.

“You became involved in a commercial job in Malvern. Halfway through the job, the developer’s money dried up.

“You had put your house up as collateral. The developer went into liquidation and you lost $130,000.

“You lost your house. This caused difficulties with your marriage.

“Your wife, at the time, was a lawyer with Slater and Gordon. Her income was not enough to support the financial difficulties that had occurred to you. There was a matrimonial dispute between the two of you.

“In 2008, you met Sharon Ropa. You had been drinking alcohol excessively.

“She introduced you to the drug world. You were selling the tablets to wholesalers and remitting the money back to Ms Ropa.

“You were involved with some 15,000 ecstasy tablets, supplied by Ms Ropa. You sold on to other wholesalers. You received $100,500 yourself as payment.”

FADL MAROUN, 33, lived at Raglan St, Preston.

Fadl Maroun, after his arrest. Picture: Australian Federal Police.

Fadl Maroun. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy. Not yet sentenced. Travelled to Hong Kong with Karam to try to buy 26 tonnes of chemicals to make ice. Along with Karam, was caught in an AFP sting during which he and Karam were secretly recorded as they were negotiating and committing drug deals with undercover police in Hong Kong and Melbourne.

FRANK MOLLUSO, 33, formerly of Menzies St, Braybrook.

Frank Molluso. Picture: AFP.

Frank Molluso. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Nickname: “Kitchen” (because he ran Creative Kitchens, which was used by the gang to store drugs).

Pleaded guilty to trafficking in a commercial quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for eight years and ordered to serve a minimum of six years and six months.

Sentencing judge James Montgomery said Molluso’s drug dealing was of a serious nature.

“General deterrence is an important sentencing consideration for this type of offending,” Justice Montgomery told Molluso.

“That is, I must impose a sentence that will deter or try and stop other people committing similar offences.

“In this offending you were a willing participant in a serious drug trafficking operation.

“I understand you became involved through your association with Mr Tony Di Pietro.

“You were a young person influenced by a smarter, older, more cunning and persuasive friend of the family, but you still made your own decision to be involved.”

PAUL PSAILA, 44, of Seaver Grove, Reservoir.

Paul Psaila.

Paul Psaila. Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking a marketable quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for four years and nine months and ordered to serve a minimum of two years and nine months.

Had prior convictions for dishonesty and heroin trafficking.

Heroin addict who met Pasquale Barbaro in prison in Queensland. Recruited by Barbaro to traffick ecstasy and handled thousands of pills.

AMREN JOSKUN, 53, of Harrow Rd, Auburn, NSW.

Amren Joskun

Amren Joskun Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking ecstasy.

Jailed for 14 months and ordered to serve a minimum of six months.

Born in Turkey. Moved to Sydney in 1988. Moved to Griffith in 1999 to work as a fruit picker, met Pasquale Barbaro while doing so and became involved in drug trafficking for the Barbaro syndicate.

Used his own car to transport thousands of ecstasy pills for Barbaro.

KADIR DEMIR, 49, of Chestnut Rd, Auburn, NSW.

Kadir Demir. Picture: AFP.

Kadir Demir. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking a marketable quantity of ecstasy.

Jailed for two years and ordered to serve a minimum of 15 months.

Born in Turkey. Met Barbaro while working as a fruit picker in Griffith. Minor player who transported ecstasy from Sydney to Melbourne with co-accused Amren Joskun.

Provided advice to Barbara gang members on how best to transport pills by road to avoid being detected.

PASQUALE SERGI, 40, of McCarthy St, Fairfield West, NSW. (Pasquale Sergi from Griffith was also charged)

Minor player who was given a 12-month intensive correction order over his ecstasy trafficking for the Barbaro syndicate.

DANNY MOUSSA, 36, of McGowan St, Preston.

Danny Moussa. Picture: AFP.

Danny Moussa. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Pasquale “Patrick” Sergi. Picture: AFP

Pasquale “Patrick” Sergi. Picture: AFP Source: Supplied

Pleaded guilty to trafficking ecstasy.

Given a four month suspended sentence and ordered to be of good behaviour for two years.

Minor player.


The AFP team investigating the Barbaro syndicate’s massive drug dealing also identified the Melbourne-based money laundering gang Barbaro used to get drug money to the European syndicate.

Tanesh Dias. Picture: AFP.

Tanesh Dias. Picture: AFP. Source: Supplied

Seyed Moulana

Seyed Moulana Source: Supplied

Anvardeen Abdul-Jabbar

Anvardeen Abdul-Jabbar Source: Supplied

Mohamed Thoufeeq Abdul Majeed

Mohamed Thoufeeq Abdul Majeed Source: Supplied

They charged five members of the money laundering syndicate and they were jailed for between two and seven years.

The five were Mohamed Thoufeeq Abdul Majeed, Anvardeen Abdul-Jabbar, Tanesh Dias, Seyed Moulana and Mohammed Nasfan Abdul Nazeer.

They laundered more than $11 million through Singapore for the Barbaro syndicate.

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'Fixed' horse race revealed as LES SAMBA murder probe steps up

On the wrong track

August 7, 2012

A murdered racing identity, tainted jockeys and money laundering. Throw in gangster Tony Mokbel and no wonder police suspect corruption in the industry.

‘Fixed’ horse race revealed as murder probe steps up

Horse race at the centre of a betting investigation may have links to the murder of horse trainer Les Samba, police say, as a $1 million reward is offered for information.

LES Samba was a complex man: controversial trainer of thoroughbred horses, doting father, one-time male stripper, renowned judge of horse flesh, friend of gangsters, police target and one-time father-in-law of champion jockey Danny Nikolic.

Samba was also a man of many secrets. Most would die with him when he was fatally shot in February 2011 in Middle Park, an inner-city Melbourne suburb better known for its up-market Victorian-era houses than colourful racing identities and murder.

But investigations into unsolved murders, especially high-profile ones, have a way of not going away. As public pressure for arrests builds, detectives dig harder and harder, hoping for a clue that will lead them to a killer. Sometimes they’ll find things that they weren’t expecting.

It was one such finding that recently led Victoria Police command to quietly move the probe into Les Samba’s death from the homicide squad to a new group of investigators.

The Purana taskforce is best known for solving most of Melbourne’s very public gangland murders. But some in Australia’s multibillion-dollar horse racing industry know Purana for another reason. Between 2006 and 2009, during the taskforce’s quest to link Tony Mokbel’s money to murder or drug trafficking, Purana detectives became accidental experts in corruption in horse racing.

Among their discoveries was that a small number of jockeys, trainers and bookmakers had received substantial under-the-table payments from the Melbourne gangster.

It was potentially explosive information, but Purana’s priority then was murder and drug trafficking. So, apart from a brief flurry of activity in the form of interviews with racing identities and seizing a few assets linked to racing figures, much of the information it found about corruption in the industry – from illegal tipping by jockeys to money laundering by bookies – was boxed up and left to gather dust in the archives. Purana moved on to other matters. So, too, did those in racing, politics and the police force who believed the multibillion-dollar sport had been left tainted and vulnerable by the failure to weed out those whom Mokbel had corrupted.

But now that killing on a Middle Park street is again casting light in places some in racing have long preferred to remain in darkness and raised fresh questions about whether authorities have been doing enough to rid Australian sport of corruption.

About two months after Samba’s death, after a seemingly unremarkable race at Cranbourne in Melbourne’s outer south-east, a fresh police file was created. It dealt with suspicious betting, some very familiar names in racing and allegations of race fixing. Murder was, once again, leading police back to the track.

Purana taskforce detectives began investigating corruption in horse racing during a probe into Tony Mokbel’s drug trafficking.

Samba, who once worked with Sydney gangster Abe ”Mr Sin” Saffron, earned his early racing notoriety with his involvement in doping horses in the 1980s. Tax and policing authorities also kept tabs on him. Between 1999 and 2002, Samba was investigated by the National Crime Authority and the Tax Office over his failure to declare income of $1.2 million.

Samba was banned from training horses because of his link to corrupt racing identities and so focused on buying them for his wealthier associates, including Sydney property developer Ron Medich.

Former Victorian chief steward Des Gleeson recalls Samba as a man often close to controversy, but with racing in his blood. In 1969, Samba was the strapper for Rain Lover when it won the Melbourne Cup.

”He raced horses successfully right through New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria,” says Gleeson.

If Samba’s involvement in the sport was colourful, Mokbel’s activities in the racing world were technicolour. But both are examples of the ease with which bad men can shrug off scandal and remain closely associated with a sport whose integrity is supposedly more closely guarded than any other. Mokbel’s early introduction to the sport was as leader of the ”tracksuit gang”, a group of punters who bet heavily and frequented racetracks dressed in designer tracksuits. From there, he gained a strong foothold in the industry.

One prominent trainer who dealt closely with Mokbel’s drug trafficking brother Horty once told The Age that what the Mokbels did for a living was neither his business nor concern. The trainer’s indifference seemingly remained even when Horty arranged for a $475,000 horse bought by this trainer to be paid for in cash.

The stewards suspected what was going on, but had no powers to stop it. Their pleas for police help to curb Mokbel’s growing influence on racing in the early 2000s fell on deaf ears. It wasn’t until the gangland killings erupted and the Purana taskforce was assigned to map and destroy Mokbel’s crime empire that the true extent of his corrupting influence in racing began to emerge.

Between 2006 and 2009, Purana found information that suggested that Mokbel had paid licensed bookmakers in return for their help laundering his money.

Former detective inspector Jim O’Brien, the head of the Purana taskforce between 2005 and 2009, says Mokbel used third parties to punt for him and ”breaking down the amounts of those bets so that they weren’t subject to Austrac [anti-money laundering agency] reporting by bookmakers”.

Mokbel also corrupted jockeys by ”slinging” them cash payments in return for inside information about their mounts, a practice that can lead to a jockey being disqualified.

The biggest thing to flow from Purana’s confidential findings about Mokbel’s racing activities was a report by former judge Gordon Lewis in 2008. But despite the seriousness of the matters Lewis investigated, his inquiry had no real powers.

Lewis could not force people to be interviewed or to obtain evidence. His report was limited to broad findings, including the sensational claim that criminal activity in the sport was ”rampant” and that jockeys, trainers and bookmakers had formed inappropriate relationships with criminals.

Yet after the Lewis inquiry and Purana’s work, not a single bookmaker was charged or was stripped of their bookie’s licence. Nor was any jockey found to have ”tipped” to Mokbel subjected to further investigation or any penalty.

O’Brien says the failure to follow up on his taskforce’s early work exposed the sport to ”a potential threat going forward”.

Among the champion jockeys scrutinised over their dealings with Mokbel was one of Australia’s best riders, Danny Nikolic.

In the early 2000s, Nikolic had been one of several jockeys, including Jimmy Cassidy, who grew close to Mokbel. Nikolic rode several horses owned by the Mokbel family and, according to well-placed racing sources, fed Mokbel information that Mokbel used to inform his betting (an allegation understood to be documented in police intelligence files, but which Nikolic denies).

After the pair’s relationship petered out – a racing source says Mokbel lost big after a bad tip from Nikolic – the champion rider appeared to move to safer pastures. Marriage and fatherhood was on the horizon. In 2006, when Nikolic married his girlfriend Victoria, his new father-in-law, Les Samba, looked on.

In early 2010, Nikolic was again in the sights of racing authorities. Victorian stewards had gathered phone and betting records and believed that before several races, Nikolic had spoken to associates who then made ultimately successful lay bets (betting on a horse not to come first) on Nikolic’s mounts. The stewards suspected Nikolic had repeatedly passed inside information about his mounts to punters close to the Nikolic family.

But, without police powers, the best case they could mount was circumstantial. So, once again, they asked police for help and once again they were denied it.

”The police told [the stewards] … to go it alone,” according to one source, who says that one of the sticking points was that police said that no complainant (such as a punter who had lost money as a result of the alleged misconduct) had come forward to enable them to initiate an inquiry.

When the stewards presented their circumstantial case before the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board, they lost. The board found that ”the evidence relied on by the stewards as a basis for drawing an inference that Nikolic communicated the chances of his mounts raises suspicions about what transpired but harbouring suspicions about conduct is not sufficient to prove the charges”.

SAMBA appears to have had no idea someone wanted him dead. He’d travelled from Sydney to Melbourne in late February last year to attend the yearling sales and was staying at the classy Crown Metropol Hotel.

On Sunday, February 28, he made the short trip in his hire car to Beaconsfield Parade in Middle Park. He arrived about 9.30pm. A short time later, witnesses heard an argument and then gun shots. Samba died at the scene.

Within hours of the shooting, journalists were calling Nikolic asking if he’d heard that his former father-in-law (by then Nikolic had separated from Samba’s daughter) was dead.

”Obviously I’m very surprised and very shocked that Les has been killed,” he told one reporter.

”I didn’t have much to do with the bloke so I wouldn’t know anything about why this could happen.”

Nikolic would later voluntarily speak to police about Samba’s death. But homicide detectives would make their own moves as well. In early April, they searched the Gold Coast home of Danny’s brother, former trainer John Nikolic.

The police have disclosed nothing linking Danny or John to Samba’s murder, and The Age is not suggesting there exists any information of such a link.

Yet for reasons known only to them, detectives appear to have kept an eye on the pair. A fortnight after John Nikolic’s home was searched, Danny was riding at Cranbourne in Melbourne’s outer south-east.

It was an unremarkable race day: a relatively small crowd dotting the grandstand or watching events over pots and parmas at the trackside bar and bistro.

Even those closely surveying race six would have seen nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from raising some minor points, the stewards didn’t dispute the race outcome: the favourite, Retaliate, had come second, beaten by a horse called Smoking Aces ridden by Nikolic.

But if observers could have factored in the betting and the identity of those backing Nikolic’s mount, interest may have been stirred. Racing sources, including those with direct links to the race, say that associates of the Nikolic brothers punted relatively heavily on Smoking Aces. They won a combined total around $200,000. Something strange was going on.

Shortly after the race, the homicide detectives investigating Samba’s murder called in police chiefs. Yesterday, police revealed why, publicly confirming that as a result of inquiries undertaken during the Samba probe, detectives are investigating allegations of race fixing involving the ride of Smoking Aces at Cranbourne. (Several months ago, The Age contacted police with information about the race found while researching integrity in sport. Police requested nothing be published until this week.)

It’s understood that Danny Nikolic and another champion jockey, Mark Zahra, are being investigated about whether they conspired before the race to alter its outcome. Both jockeys, along with John Nikolic, have declined to comment on the allegations.

If police have been slow to move on racing corruption in the past, they are making all efforts to appear to be on the front foot in the wake of this week’s revelations. They recently moved the probe into the Samba murder and the alleged race fixing to the Purana organised crime taskforce. Yesterday, police posted a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrests of Samba’s killers.

One of Victoria’s most senior organised crime detectives, Superintendent Gerry Ryan, told The Age: ”We’ll leave no stone unturned. So that means we’ll look at a number of races and, you know, a number of areas that unfold as the investigation goes.

”It’s important … at the end of this investigation to make sure that the integrity in racing here in Victoria and nationally is squeaky clean.

”Certainly I believe that if we’re able to solve the race fixing and solve the issues that are emerging, we will certainly solve the murder.”

Second top rider faces probe

August 7, 2012

A SECOND champion jockey, Mark Zahra, has become embroiled in the Smoking Aces race-fixing scandal.

The Age can also reveal that the Australian Federal Police and the Tax Office are joining Victorian detectives in probing the 2011 murder of former horse trainer Les Samba and in an offshoot investigation into corruption in the racing industry.

It is understood that police are following a national and international money trail, and the role of the AFP will be to follow leads across Australia and overseas.

Racing industry sources also revealed that the Australian Crime Commission – the nation’s peak criminal intelligence body – has questioned up to a dozen figures in connection with the race-fixing probe.

Zahra and fellow leading jockey Danny Nikolic are under investigation by organised crime detectives over allegations that they helped fix a race last year.

Zahra is being investigated for allegedly conspiring to ride his horse, Baikal, in a way that would reduce the chances of the race favourite, Retaliate, and favour Nikolic’s mount, Smoking Aces.

The race, won by Nikolic, was held at Cranbourne in April last year. Punters associated with Nikolic collected up to $200,000 in betting returns.

Zahra is one of Australia’s leading jockeys and has just returned from a stint in Hong Kong to prepare for the Melbourne spring carnival.

Nikolic and Zahra have both declined to answer questions about the Smoking Aces affair.

Detective Superintendent Gerard Ryan said: ”Racing is not only limited to here in Victoria, it’s here nationally and internationally and we know that our jockeys travel the world, so we

need to have a look [at] exactly what they’re up to.

”The Australian Federal Police, the Australian Taxation Office and other law enforcement agencies are embedded into the Purana taskforce as a part of this investigation.”

Victoria’s racing integrity commissioner, Sal Perna, has called on state and federal authorities to do more to safeguard the sport.

In NSW and other states, the oversight regime is less independent and weaker than in Victoria, and Mr Perna, along with other anti-corruption experts, want national laws and standards to be introduced to protect racing and other sports.

Mr Perna said such inconsistencies ”can’t be good” for racing. ”We want the same standard to apply when it comes to integrity right across the board,” he said.

The Age can also reveal that convicted drug trafficker Horty Mokbel has resurrected his brother Tony’s ”tracksuit gang”, which was a group of big punters – including organised criminals and racing figures – who bet big and formed close ties with jockeys, bookmakers and trainers.

The Age has observed Horty and this new group of track-suited punters meet almost daily outside a suburban TAB outlet in Melbourne.

Among them was underworld identity Paul Sequenzia, who part-owns the most successful horse in harness racing, Sushi Sushi.

Mr Sequenzia, who had drug trafficking charges against him dropped in 2004, was also part-owner of Em Maguane, one of the first horses in Australia to test positive for the performance-enhancing drug EPO.

While members of Tony Mokbel’s old tracksuit gang are barred from Victorian racetracks and the Crown Casino – on the actions of former chief police commissioner Christine Nixon – Mr Sequenzia and several members of the re-formed group are not. This is despite police intelligence revealing they are a major threat to the integrity of racing in Victoria.

Yesterday, Victorian Racing Minister Denis Napthine and Racing Victoria chief Rob Hines defended the integrity of the sport, and federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy said she would assess the latest allegations before responding.

”Police are saying they’re looking at one race out of many, many thousands that are conducted in Victoria each year,” Mr Napthine said.

”I have every faith and belief that racing in Victoria is run at the highest level of integrity.”

Mr Hines called for the statutory authority to be given greater powers to weed out race fixers and wrongdoers and urged the industry to have closer relations with police.

He said he had ”no concerns” about what names might be uncovered during the investigations, but emphasised his belief that the $4 million a year spent by Racing Victoria on its integrity services ensured that the industry was overwhelmingly straight.

The biggest problem, he said, was Racing Victoria’s inability to act against unlicensed people if there was sufficient activity to warrant investigation.

He said a VCAT decision two years ago preventing Racing Victoria from acting against unlicensed individuals had stymied its ability to police the sport much as it would like.

”That is a limitation, a gap in the integrity system of racing.”

Stand down riders amid fix claims

August 7, 2012

RACING Victoria Ltd stewards should today stand down jockeys Dan Nikolic and Mark Zahra from riding indefinitely pending further investigations into the most dreaded curse that can befall horse racing, race fixing.

Such allegations against both Nikolic and Zahra, reported in today’s Age and featured last night in the ABC’s Four Corners program, are damaging like no other scandal could be for a sport that exists solely because some people have (enough) confidence to bet on horses. But confidence can be a fragile intangible.

The gambler is a predictable yet versatile beast. Wins are celebrated and losses mostly shrugged off. But one thing a gambler dislikes is being cheated. He won’t stop gambling but rather move on to something else. There are casinos, pokies and sports betting.

No matter the result of the police investigation into the Cranbourne race in April last year won by Nikolic aboard Smoking Aces, RVL must stand down any licensed person identified in the investigation. The presumption of innocence is a worthy ideal, but to uphold it in this case is to risk allowing the sport to be turned into a circus on the eve of the spring carnival.

It was revealed last night that Zahra and Nikolic are under investigation by the organised crime detectives over allegations that they allegedly helped fix the race in April last year. Zahra is being investigated for allegedly conspiring to ride his horse, Baikal, in a way that would reduce the chances of the favourite, Retaliate, and favour Nikolic’s mount, Smoking Aces.

Smoking Aces was backed from $10 into $5 just before the race. Zahra’s mount Baikal, who finished in front of just one horse, drifted from $7 to $14 by race time.

RVL chief executive Rob Hines confirmed yesterday that stewards will open an inquiry into investigations once they obtain information from Victoria Police, but stressed that the investigation was into one race only. That may be the case, but in these matters, perception is king, especially as the investigation into the Cranbourne race came about only following police probes into another criminal matter. The obvious question remains.

Although neither have been prominent in recent jockeys’ premierships, both are regarded as big-race riders.

Zahra was due to take his first mount since May at Geelong today, but the horse, Kukri, was scratched from race six. Nikolic is booked for one ride today – Dunharrow in race three – as well as two at Sandown Hillside tomorrow.

Racing Victoria seeks more power

August 7, 2012

RACING Victoria chief executive Rob Hines yesterday called for the statutory authority to be given greater powers to weed out race fixers and wrong doers, urged closer relations with the police and declared that transparency and the full pursuit of probity issues were in the interests of all concerned in the multi-billion dollar industry.

Hines said he had ”no concerns” whichever names were uncovered in the investigations into alleged race fixing – revealed yesterday by The Age – but stressed his belief that the $4 million a year that RVL spent on its integrity services ensured the industry was mostly corruption free.

The biggest problem RVL faced, he said, was its inability to take action against unlicensed personnel if there was sufficient activity to warrant investigation.

Hines added that, despite the adverse headlines it is good for racing to have these matters discussed in the open.

”I don’t think it’s a negative,” he said.

”We need a clean sport, we need people to believe in it and trust in our sport. The more we do to root out these issues the better the sport will be rather than try to push it under the carpet or not talk about it. We have to get on top of it. We welcome the Victoria Police’s renewed focus on this. We have been collaborating on this particular investigation for several months.

”The allegations pertain to one race only at Cranbourne. We have not been asked or made aware of any other races involved in this investigation. We are waiting for the police investigation to reach a stage where we can legally obtain the information and then use it as evidence to open a stewards inquiry.

”When these issues arise they are related to betting. When you have this much money, billions of dollars invested in an industry, there will always be a few people looking to take advantage for financial gain. That’s just life.

”The vast majority of our participants, whether they be licensed or unlicensed, do this genuinely and honestly.

”There is a small group that will be looking to take advantage. We have to try and keep on top of that group.”

Hines said that a VCAT decision two years ago preventing RVL from taking action against unlicensed individuals stymied its ability to police the sport as much as it would like.

“That is a limitation, a gap in the integrity system of racing. We cannot have jurisdiction over (some) people who are making their living out of racing through betting or being commission agents or whatever,” he said.

“We requested of the government immediately after that decision, and consistently over the past two years, that they find a way to provide racing with jurisdiction over unlicensed persons … they haven’t shut the door on us, but we would like the power.”

Hines said he didn’t believe that the allegations, in which controversial jockey Danny Nikolic has been named, would damage confidence in the sport as it heads into the spring carnival.

“It’s always unwelcome to have this kind of publicity. But I would rather have the publicity, and have people know that we are fighting these things and fixing these things than not have the publicity and it to be much more widespread,” he said.

“We do not believe there is endemic corruption in the sport. That would be very damaging for racing, and the message we want to get out to people is that over 4000 races a year this is one race and a small group of people trying to take advantage.”

Asked if the industry was prepared for what might be a messy fall out, Hines was adamant.

“I think it would be very good for racing if this is cleaned out. I have no concerns if there are people implicated whether through the Purana Taskforce or some other way and this comes to light. It can only be good for racing,” he said.

“We really welcome their renewed focus. In the last six months they have genuinely turned their attention to these matters. We have a good co-operation, its much better than it was.”

Police probe racing corruption

August 6, 2012

Nick McKenzie, Clay Hichens and Richard Baker

‘Fixed’ horse race revealed as murder probe steps up

Horse race at the centre of a betting investigation may have links to the murder of horse trainer Les Samba, police say, as a $1 million reward is offered for information.

POLICE are investigating a string of top Australian horse-racing figures, including champion jockey Danny Nikolic, for alleged race fixing in what is shaping as the biggest corruption scandal to hit the sport in decades.

Nikolic, at least one other leading jockey, a former trainer and several other well-known racing identities across Australia are under investigation by Victorian organised crime detectives for allegedly conspiring to fix the outcome of a race last year.

Detective Superintendent Gerard Ryan confirmed that police were investigating race fixing in Victoria involving a horse called Smoking Aces in 2011. The suspected race fix was uncovered during the probe into former trainer Les Samba’s murder and is understood to have yielded participants a total of up to $200,000 in betting returns.

After a joint Age/Four Corners investigation, it can also be revealed that police today will announce a $1 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Samba’s killers.

”I believe that if we’re able to solve the race fixing and solve the issues that are emerging, we will certainly solve the murder,” said Superintendent Ryan in an exclusive interview.

Other corruption issues tied to racing across Australia are also understood to be under scrutiny as a result of inquiries into the killing of Samba in February last year.

The suspected corruption being investigated involves race fixing, money laundering, tax fraud and tipping, in which jockeys are paid secret commissions for giving punters inside information. Some of the alleged conduct under investigation may breach criminal laws or the rules of racing.

Racing figures suspected of involvement in the Smoking Aces affair are believed to have arranged for two jockeys to ride in a fashion that would reduce the race favourite’s chances of winning and boost Smoking Aces’ chances of success.

So serious is the alleged racing corruption that Victoria Police has moved the Samba probe to the Purana organised crime taskforce.

”We’ll leave no stone unturned. So that means we’ll look at a number of races … and a number of areas that unfold as the investigation goes [on],” said Superintendent Ryan.

”But it’s important, at the end of this investigation, to make sure that the integrity in racing here in Victoria and nationally is squeaky clean.”

Samba was shot dead on Beaconsfield Parade in Middle Park on the evening of February 27 last year. Nikolic, a leading jockey and Caulfield Cup winner, married Samba’s daughter, Victoria, in 2006. They had separated some time before Samba’s death. The Age is not suggesting Nikolic had any involvement in the murder.

Nikolic declined to answer questions about Smoking Aces and did not respond to a list of questions sent to his lawyer on Thursday evening.

The revelations cast a cloud over the integrity of the nation’s multibillion-dollar racing industry and the regime in place to safeguard it.

Top police and racing officials – including former Victorian chief steward and AFL corruption consultant Des Gleeson – are calling on the federal and state governments to boost the anti-corruption regime in Australian sport.

Mr Gleeson called on governments to urgently fill major holes in the system by introducing a national sporting integrity body, nationwide standards and race and match-fixing laws.

“[This] should have been done yesterday .. before there’s an almighty scandal in sport in Australia,” he said.

The former head of Purana, Jim O’Brien, said the oversight of racing had been ”extremely poor”, partly due to the insufficient powers held by racing stewards and the absence of sustained police attention.

The former detective inspector described as surprising the failure of authorities to further investigate and hold to account racing figures identified by Purana – between 2005 and 2009 – as having been corrupted by drug boss Tony Mokbel.

“It’s not good for the industry and, you know it, it also creates a potential threat going forward,” Mr O’Brien said.

The Smoking Aces inquiry is not the first time Nikolic’s activities have been under scrutiny. In early 2010 Nikolic was charged by Victorian racing stewards with leaking information about several of his mounts to punters, who then successfully bet on the horses to not finish first.

The Age can reveal that, in that case, a request from stewards to police for assistance to help gather more evidence was denied. The stewards persisted with a circumstantial case, but Nikolic was cleared by the racing disciplinary board in June 2010 on the basis that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove the case.

Police began quizzing suspects, including trainers and jockeys, earlier this year in connection to the Smoking Aces case.

Superintendent Ryan conceded that, in the past, police ”did take our eye off the ball”, but he said Victoria was now leading the country in fighting corruption in racing and other sports. ”We needed to get back into this arena and we have.”

Victoria Police recently became the only force in Australia with a dedicated sport corruption response model, which is led by a superintendent and which can draw on experts including specialist detectives and forensic accountants. Two detectives have also recently been appointed to oversee all intelligence gathered about corruption in horse racing.

Superintendent Ryan said: ”Anyone that’s involved in any criminal enterprise in any shape or form and particularly in organised crime, we’ll come chasing it and we’ll make sure that the integrity in any sport, particularly racing … will be upheld.

”Whether it’s a jockey or a trainer or any person involved in it, we will chase them and we will charge them and put them properly before a court of law.”

Anti-corruption measures are much weaker in some states and sports than in others. Victoria is the only state with a full-time racing watchdog.

The NSW government’s efforts to introduce independent scrutiny of its scandal-tainted harness and greyhound racing industry have been beset by problems, with the most recent watchdog appointed, former NSW 0mbudsman David Landa, resigning in protest. He told an investigation by The Age and Four Corners that the oversight model in NSW was ”a fraud on the public” because it lacked any independence or powers.

The Age has been investigating corruption in racing since last year. After racing sources revealed concerns about a race involving Smoking Aces, The Age approached Victoria Police in April and was asked by senior police to withhold reporting on the matter until this week.

For more on the Age/Four Corners investigation, watch Four Corners tonight at 8.30

Inside Mail – 6 August 2012

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: The sport of kings and the occasional crook.

Welcome to Four Corners.

Colourful racing identities have always been a part of racing, even though the term has often been a euphemism for shady characters who might be up to no good. Understandable when you consider the number of race meetings taking place around the country every day of the week. With billions of dollars changing hands each year.

Those billions invariably include an unknown amount of illegally obtained money, usually from drugs, that washes through the betting system and comes out clean. One drug baron is reputed to have laundered $80 million in this fashion.

Our story tonight shows how corruption and criminal behaviour on the track are widespread and increasingly difficult to scrutinise. But while horse racing authorities and police often have parallel interests, there’s far less co-operation than you might think, and that police are no taking a close interest in some of Australian racing’s best known names. One trigger for renewed police interest in the industry has been their investigation into the murder of racing identity Les Samba in Melbourne.

And Victoria Police today announced a reward of $1 million for information leading the arrest of his killer or killers.

Reporter Nick McKenzie has been investigating corruption in sport since last year and this investigation by Four Corners and the Age newspaper is the result.

NICK MCKENZIE, PRESENTER: It’s just after nine o’clock on a Sunday night as a guest at Melbourne’s exclusive Crown Metropol Hotel heads out in his hire car.

Les Samba, a colourful Sydney racing and business figure, is in town for the thoroughbred yearling sales.

But tonight he’s on his way to a fateful rendezvous.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN, VICTORIA POLICE: For some unknown reason he had an appointment in Beaconsfield Parade. And he went to that spot. Why he went there and who lured him there we don’t know. So that’s what we’re asking the public to ah really put those last few moments together for us.

JOHN SILVESTER, SENIOR CRIME WRITER, THE AGE: Now why you would decide to meet someone in a street when you were in a major hotel, you could have come in, they could have come to see you, have coffee. Perhaps he didn’t want to be seen with those people. That’s why he chose that what he thought was neutral ground.

NICK MCKENZIE, REPORTER: Samba had a history of dubious business and racing connections. He once worked for Sydney gangster Abe Saffron, and more recently was a close associate of Sydney property developer Ron Medich, who is presently facing murder charges in New South Wales.

JOHN SILVESTER: He certainly showed no indication that he was in fear of his life. However, he was a fellow who knew some very dangerous people. There were business dealings which were non-racing which could have gone pear shaped. He was entrepreneurial and so he went where the money was. So he had many colourful friends, some of them with short tempers.

(Reconstruction plays)

NICK MCKENZIE: As he parked his car and made his way along the dark street, Les Samba was apparently unaware that he was walking into an ambush.

(Sound of gun fire)

(Excerpt from ABC News report 27 February, 2011)

FEMALE REPORTER: Middle Park, one of Melbourne’s most affluent suburbs, last night became scene of what police say was a premeditated hit.

UNIDENTIFIED DETECTIVE: Ambulance unit attended the scene but this male was found deceased.

FEMALE REPORTER: Mr Samba began to run but was shot several times in the body and head.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR JOHN POTTER, VICTORIA POLICE (27 February, 2011): This is a clearly horrific incident to happen in a residential street in Melbourne.

(End excerpt)

NICK MCKENZIE: One of the city’s most upmarket bay-side addresses became the site of a major homicide investigation over the following days.

Police seemed sure of an early breakthrough.

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR JOHN POTTER: We’re confident we will solve this case, we have a number of persons of interest that we’re looking at. And we’ll continue to work through this case.

NICK MCKENZIE: Almost 18 months later, the murder of Les Samba remains unsolved.

But tonight Four Corners can reveal that the police investigation has lifted the lid on allegations of organised crime networks and high-level corruption in horse racing.

Is it correct to say that it’s opened up a real can of worms in respect of racing corruption and if so, how big a can of worms?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: What, what I can say is that we’ve had to have a look at the racing industry. And doing that as a part of our investigation we need to have a look at has organised crime influenced racing in Victoria and racing anywhere within Australia.

NICK MCKENZIE: Within weeks of the shooting, Les Samba’s daughter, Victoria, made an emotional public plea for information.

(Excerpt from press conference with Victoria Samba)

VICTORIA SAMBA, DAUGHTER: My dad has been taken from us in such a horrific way but no-one can take away the beautiful memories I have of him.

(End excerpt)

NICK MCKENZIE: Victoria Samba was married to leading jockey Danny Nikolic, who has steered his mounts to victory in some of the nation’s biggest races, including the Caulfield Cup.

Nikolic and Victoria Samba had separated some time before Les Samba was gunned down.

JOHN SILVESTER: Les had involved himself hands on in looking after his daughter which created some bad blood. And that’s one of the areas of course police naturally would look at.

Detectives soon turned their attention to Danny Nikolic, along with others in the racing world, hoping for any clue that would shed light on Les Samba’s murder.

(Question): Is Danny Nikolic or his brother John persons of interest in the ongoing investigation?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: They’re people we have spoken to and we’d probably like to speak to further, as is a number of other people in the racing industry.

JOHN SILVESTER: In fact Danny Nikolic, the jockey, voluntarily went to police and spoke to them. And that was a long time ago and he hasn’t been charged. So he of course should be afforded the presumption of innocence.

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): .. racing, great line out … fast away, Dubai Opera sped to the lead from Cyclone Sarah, Stacks on Max and Tycoon Rob going fast with Smoking Aces as they …

NICK MCKENZIE: Two months later, Danny Nikolic was back in the saddle for a race at Cranbourne on Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe.

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): … Smoking Aces …

NICK MCKENZIE: His horse was called Smoking Aces.

RACE CALLER: … been getting back in the field by retaliating …

NICK MCKENZIE: During the race, the stewards responsible for guarding the integrity of the sport were watching closely.

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): by Opera and Smoking Aces – first up from …

NICK MCKENZIE: To the eyes of experienced turf-watchers, it was a masterful win by Danny Nikolic on Smoking Aces.

(Question): So Patrick, how’s Nikolic’s run at the moment?

PATRICK BARTLEY, SENIOR RACING WRITER, THE AGE: Nikolic’s riding the, the absolutely magic race. He’s aware of the favourite, where it is. He’s aware …

NICK MCKENZIE: Watching that race, ah, um, would the average punter have sniffed something unusual?

PATRICK BARTLEY: I couldn’t see, no. I there was good and bad luck and it went the way of Danny and it didn’t go the way of the favourite.

NICK MCKENZIE: What was unusual was the relatively heavy betting on Danny Nikolic’s horse on the day of the race, and the identity of the punters who collected up to $200,000 in winnings.

What’s more, the stewards weren’t alone in scrutinising the outcome of the race.

(Question): Are you investigating race fixing?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: That is one of the allegations that that has been levelled yes.

NICK MCKENZIE: And is there a certain race in particular under, under investigation?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: There is a certain race under investigation that we’ve made aware of that we need to have a look at.

NICK MCKENZIE: And that’s the race at Cranbourne, the Ride of Smoking Aces?


NICK MCKENZIE: The alleged conduct of certain prominent racing figures in connection to the ride of Smoking Aces here at Cranbourne casts a huge cloud over the sport.

It also raises questions about whether authorities and governments have been failing to safeguard an industry worth billions.

SAL PERNA, VICTORIA RACING INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER: The whole vision ofa sport, particularly racing, is that the best animal’s going to win on its own merits. And anything that detracts from that is disgraceful.

DES GLEESON, FORMER CHIEF STEWARD, RACING VICTORIA: Racing is entirely dependent, or significantly dependent on the gambling dollar. And it’s important that people have confidence when they do place a bet that they’re going to get a run for their money.

(Footage of a race meet)

NICK MCKENZIE: From gala metropolitan race meetings to mid-week country fixtures, racing is big business.

Last year Australians spent more than $14 billion betting on thoroughbreds.

The track has long been a drawcard for punters representing a cross section of society, including cashed up criminals, who’ve been targeting the sport for decades.

JOHN SILVESTER: Now in Melbourne your major gangsters can’t actually go and knock on the door at the Melbourne Club and come in and meet judges over stilton and port. But in the racing industry people just blend in and inside information is the currency of the day

NICK MCKENZIE: By the late 1970s Robert Trimbole had graduated from king of the Griffith marijuana trade to membership of a crime syndicate which imported millions of dollars worth of heroin into Australia.

JOHN SILVESTER: According to New South Wales intelligence reports, at one stage he had 13 jockeys on his payroll. His diary when it was seized had numbers of judges, racing officials, jockeys, race callers. And there were a serious of illegal phone taps put on his phone before he fled Australia in 1981. And those tapes showed him talking to jockeys routinely, getting tips and even sharing tips with police.

His bets used to be $20,000 cash. He still lost money. But it’s not about making a profit, because if you can turn say 100 per cent of dirty money into 75 per cent clean money through the track, you’re in front.

NICK MCKENZIE: From their first ride onwards, jockeys across the country are warned that the rules of racing prohibit them passing on inside information or tips about the races they’re competing in.

DES GLEESON: The jockeys are not permitted to tip and under the rules jockeys can’t receive any benefit at all, whether it be financial benefit or otherwise, from anyone other than the owners of the horses. So it’s generally considered that, you know, jockeys are there to ride the horses and give them every possible chance of winning but they’re not in the game for tipping horses and receiving benefits from doing that.

NICK MCKENZIE: In 1995 Australian racing faced a very public crisis.

Revelations that police phone taps had caught Sydney jockeys passing inside information to the head of a drug syndicate and allegedly fixing races hit the headlines in what became known as the Jockey Tapes Scandal.

BOB CARR, FORMER NSW PREMIER (in NSW Parliament, 1995): This government is determined to drive corruption from racing.

RACE CALLER: They won’t catch Jimmy Cassidy, he spears away running home .. Hot Zephyr in front and he’s going to make it six.. Cassidy, the man, the genius.

NICK MCKENZIE: At the centre of the scandal, one of the biggest names in Australian racing: jockey Jim Cassidy, who rode Kiwi from last place to a celebrated win in the 1983 Melbourne Cup.

RACE CALLER (Melbourne Cup, 1983): And here’s Kiwi … Kiwi is flying and Kiwi got up to win the Cup from Nobel Comment and Mr Jazz.

(Excerpt from ABC News 1986)

REPORTER: 6am, Rosehill Racecourse, another opportunity for Jim Cassidy to talk to the horses he’ll be riding at the weekend.

JIM CASSIDY, JOCKEY: By talking to the animal itself and letting it have confidence in you nine times out of 10 you’ve always got full control.

(End excerpt)

NICK MCKENZIE: When the Australian Jockey Club launched its own inquiry into the jockey tapes scandal, Jim Cassidy admitted he hadn’t just been discussing race tactics with his mounts.

(Excerpt from news report plays)

REPORTER: How you feeling Jim?

LAWYER: He’s got no comment …

NICK MCKENZIE: AJC chief steward, John Schreck, who led the investigation into the Fine Cotton scandal a decade earlier, brought disciplinary charges against Jim Cassidy and two other jockeys implicated by the phone taps.

He was not surprised that a subsequent New South Wales Crime Commission investigation found insufficient evidence to lay criminal charges.

John Schreck maintains it’s virtually impossible for a corrupt jockey to guarantee that a horse will win but it is possible to manipulate the outcome of a race.

JOHN SCHRECK, FORMER CHIEF STEWARD, AJC: You can turn a good thing into a certainty by running the race in a way to suit the good thing. And so, therefore, the manipulation of a race is not impossible unfortunately. I’d like to tell you that it is, but it’s not.

NICK MCKENZIE: The stewards found Jim Cassidy guilty of conduct prejudicial to racing, by pretending to fix races in return for money, and disqualified him from setting foot on a racetrack for three years.

JOHN SCHRECK: He was making this suggestion to the person, the drug dealer guy, that he could fix races and all sorts of things. And of course he wasn’t doing that in, and he couldn’t do that, he wasn’t able to do that. Cassidy was just conning the guy, and successfully, which is not to Jim Cassidy’s credit of course, but that was what was going on.

NICK MCKENZIE: Jim Cassidy appealed against his disqualification, which was later reduced to a 20 month suspension.

JIM CASSIDY (archive footage): There’s life after racing but Jimbo will be back don’t worry about that.

RACE CALLER (Melbourne Cup, 1997): Doremus is coming at him, Doremus after Might and Power… Might and Power and Doremus they … oh it’s close Doremus runs, Doremus runs to the outside. Can he have done it a second time?

NICK MCKENZIE: By 1997 Jim Cassidy was back on the track and celebrating his second Melbourne Cup victory on Might and Power.

RACE CALLER 2 (Melbourne Cup, 1997): What a great finish; that is one of the great finishes in history.

NICK MCKENZIE: He was also forging a relationship with another big punter who would soon earn an even bigger reputation as a major drug trafficker. His name was Tony Mokbel.

DES GLEESON: He was big. Ah he was a big player. He was wagering enormous amounts of money and not only Victoria but right round Australia

JOHN SILVESTER: Tony Mokbel and Bob Trimbole were very similar. They loved the races but they were both extremely personable men. They were likeable. People liked to be with them.

NICK MCKENZIE: Leading crime reporter and author John Silvester, who documented Melbourne’s deadly gangland wars, witnessed Mokbel’s rise in the late 1990s.

As his drug empire grew, Mokbel became a regular at the racetrack, with a crew of cronies nicknamed the Tracksuit Gang who put down large cash bets on his behalf.

JOHN SILVESTER: These were a group of men who would place bets on horses up and down the eastern seaboard in a plunge. On one occasion all with sort of all $100 notes, and when they won they demanded to be paid with new $100 notes. And the Purana Task Force believe that the Mokbel industry, the company, put through $80 million in gaming over this period of time.

NICK MCKENZIE: Tony Mokbel’s influence was not confined to the betting ring.

Despite being charged with drug trafficking in 1998 and again in 2001, Mokbel was being seen around Melbourne, keeping company with leading jockeys.

Victoria’s chief steward, Des Gleeson, became so concerned he warned both Jim Cassidy and his younger rival, champion jockey Danny Nikolic, to stay away from Mokbel.

DES GLEESON: We spoke to quite a number of licensed persons, not only jockeys, trainers as well, and advised them to be careful with who they associated with.

NICK MCKENZIE: Do you think Mokbel was getting inside mail from jockeys?

DES GLEESON: No I don’t think so. Mr Mokbel won money, he lost money. He he was a big player but he wasn’t always successful. He lost huge amounts of money from time to time and I think he was an impulse punter as well. But we’ve no evidence that he was getting information from jockeys, no.

NICK MCKENZIE: But Des Gleeson did not know all that was going on behind the scenes.

He readily admits he was working with one arm tied behind his back, without police powers to tap phones, examine bank accounts or launch full police-style investigations.

DES GLEESON: The stewards don’t have the powers that the police have. We don’t have powers to intercept phone calls or anything like that. We don’t have powers to, as I said, speak to unlicensed persons. And that’s where we need the cooperation of the civil authorities if the need arises.

As Mokbel’s reach into the sport grew, racing officials formally asked police for help on two occasions. But their pleas fell on deaf ears.

DES GLEESON: When the racing squad was disbanded in late 90s there was a complete void until basically 2005 where we received very little information, if any information at all from the civil authorities. And that was disappointing from our perspective.

NICK MCKENZIE: And during that period Mokbel was growing his presence in racing?

DES GLEESON: He was, yes. He was at that time certainly. He’s – he was certainly gaining momentum during that period.

NICK MCKENZIE: With the police effectively sidelined, Mokbel’s relationship with the jockeys, trainers and bookies blossomed, and suspicions grew.

JOHN NOTT: Clearly Mokbel because of being privileged with information, he got four-to-one and seven-to-two and three-to-one, and Joe public wandering in and out of his TAB each day or getting onto his phone account for the market mover, he’d be copping the $3 or $3.10. And there’s the advantage to be had from so-called inside information.

NICK MCKENZIE: A 50 year veteran of trackside punting, John Nott often saw the tracksuit gang in action as they laid big bets for Tony Mokbel.

JOHN NOTT, PUNTER: I noticed that when he backed a Cassidy mount it went particularly well, often won or ran very well. But when he backed two or three others in a race and Cassidy was riding one of the short priced runners, I’ll say it never won or almost never won.

NICK MCKENZIE: Leading bookie, Frank Hudson, had no qualms about taking Tony Mokbel’s cash, even while Mokbel was free on $1 million bail after being arrested and charged with running a $1 billion dollar drug empire.

(Referring to photograph of Tony Mokbel and Frank Hudson)

After this photograph of Mokbel placing bets with Hudson was published by Melbourne’s Herald Sun in 2004, authorities finally moved to ban Mokbel from the track.

JOHN NOTT: There was certainly nothing done until the photo appeared in the paper. I mean he was standing beside Frank Hudson and it was almost a posed photo. So it was no secret.

NICK MCKENZIE: It was only amid the growing death toll of Melbourne’s gangland war that Tony Mokbel’s empire was systematically targeted by a new police task force named Purana.

(Question): Before Purana came along how focused was the Victoria Police in dealing with this Mokbel corruption in racing issue?

JIM O’BRIEN, FORMER HEAD, PURANA TASKFORCE: Well they weren’t. Basically the police department had dropped the ball on anything to do with the racing industry. There was no racing squad, there was nobody monitoring what was happening on the track. It became – basically we, it was a periphery to the investigation we were doing. So yeah there was, there was nothing.

RICHARD LINDELL: In 2005, the Purana taskforce got a new boss, Inspector Jim O’Brien.

O’Brien’s priority was uncovering Mokbel’s involvement in drug trafficking and murder as well as targeting his assets.

Purana discovered Mokbel was cleaning drug money by betting with bookmakers in a manner that would avoid the attention of anti-money laundering agency Austrac.

JIM O’BRIEN: We were well aware of his connection with racing in Victoria. But a lot of the time it was about using others to place those bets on his behalf and breaking down the amounts of those bets so that they weren’t subject to Austrac reporting by bookmakers.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: There was information being passed on from people within the racing industry to certain individuals that probably placed bets on a knowledge basis that put them ahead of the average punter; that people were utilising bookmakers illegally; and that probably horses were in a third party name and things such as that.

JOHN SILVESTER: There were phone taps that police had which connected Tony with a number of jockeys and trainers. In fact I think seven prominent racing officials ended up being subpoenaed to give evidence at the Australian Crime Commission when they started to follow the money.

NICK MCKENZIE: Before long, police moved in on Mokbel’s assets, which ranged from sports cars to property worth millions of dollars.

Tax authorities also took action in connection to a unit in this apartment tower, which was ostensibly owned by bookie Frank Hudson but which Mokbel helped finance. Hudson was told to cough up unpaid tax linked to this property.

Purana also scrutinised the dealings of trainer Peter Moody, now famous as the trainer of Black Caviar.

In late 2007, Moody was leasing stables owned by the Mokbel family.

He’d also been training a horse called Pillar of Hercules, which was registered in the name of Moody’s wife and the wife of a Mokbel family associate.

But according to a Supreme Court affidavit lodged by Purana, the $475,000 horse had “in fact been purchased by Tony Mokbel’s brother Horty and its ownership details falsified so as to avoid detection by police.”

JIM O’BRIEN: It was paid for by money that was delivered in garbage bags.

NICK MCKENZIE: A bit of a red flag you’d think?

JIM O’BRIEN: Well you’d think that’s not the normal way people do business.

NICK MCKENZIE: In October 2007, Purana seized Pillar of Hercules, alleging in the same affidavit the thoroughbred was bought “as part of a large scale money laundering operation in an attempt to cover up the extent of monies derived from drug trafficking.”

DES GLEESON: That was one instance where we did work closely with the Victoria Police who gave us information in relation to the ownership of the horse. And we immediately stopped it from racing and the horse was sold.

NICK MCKENZIE: Do you think the trainer in question had questions to answer about his role in the affair?

DES GLEESON: Oh we did question Mr Moody at length about the whole scenario but no action was taken against Mr Moody at the time, no.


DES GLEESON: No evidence to support the charge being laid.

NICK MCKENZIE: Purana investigators also began to zero in on the money Mokbel was paying jockeys.

Four Corners has confirmed they gathered evidence that Mokbel had paid tens of thousands of dollars in secret commissions to jockeys in return for tips. Purana identified at least two leading jockeys were on the Mokbel payroll.

(Question): Why was it helpful for Mokbel to have that in inside information?

JIM O’BRIEN: Well it’s helpful in relation to him being able to launder his assets. I suppose if he’s got odds on favour it’s going to, even if it’s very short money, if he puts up $20,000 and gets $21,000 or $22,000 back he’s still, he’s cleaned that money. He’s got some, he’s got something to show ‘oh this money I won on a bet’ or, you know, ‘I had a bet on such and such a date and here’s a record of it and I can call that bookmaker at my trial if I ever get charged.’

NICK MCKENZIE: Four Corners has confirmed that Jim Cassidy privately admitted to investigators that he’d received almost $100,000 from Mokbel in exchange for tips.

But publicly, Cassidy has denied any improper dealings with Mokbel, instead calling him a friend who he respected.

JOHN SCHRECK: Even in those days, the whole world knew that Mokbel wasn’t much chop and I think it would’ve been better for a high profile race rider like Jim Cassidy to have been saying different things from that.

NICK MCKENZIE: In 2007 investigators also documented allegations that, like Cassidy, Danny Nikolic had enjoyed Mokbel’s largesse.

Nikolic rode at least five horses owned by Mokbel or his associates, but publicly denied ever leaking him any inside mail. No evidence to the contrary was ever produced.

Purana’s investigation should have been a wake-up call for racing. In a way, it was.

The Victorian government commissioned a report from a former judge, Gordon Lewis, which drew on Purana’s investigation into Mokbel to conclude that criminal activity in racing was “rampant”.

Lewis’s 2008 report called for an overhaul in the policing of the sport, finding that “bookmakers, trainers and jockeys” had “improper associations with known criminals.”

RACE CALLER: Racing now, Splendid Choice …

NICK MCKENZIE: But since the release of the Lewis report not a single bookmaker, jockey or trainer has faced any serious repercussions over their dealings with Tony Mokbel.

RACE CALLER: .. note with Hoss Amore winning and Jimmy Cassidy on board.

NICK MCKENZIE (question): How many people in racing, jockeys, trainers, bookies, licensed people actually have been held to account over their dealings with Tony Mokbel?

JIM O’BRIEN: None that I know of.

NICK MCKENZIE: Does that surprise you?

JIM O’BRIEN: Yeah it is surprising.

CHRIS MUNCE, FORMER JOCKEY (to press pack, 2006): Oh steady boys!

NICK MCKENZIE: The way Hong Kong dealt with the case of champion Australian jockey Chris Munce in 2006 stands in stark contrast to the failure of Australian racing to investigate jockeys, trainers and bookies linked to Tony Mokbel.

(Excerpt from News Story on Chris Munce)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (to press): Come on boys, out of the way)

REPORTER: The Melbourne Cup winning rider was detained at his house just hours before scheduled to board a flight to Australia.

(End excerpt)

NICK MCKENZIE: Chris Munce was arrested with betting details and thousands of dollars in cash in his pockets after lengthy surveillance by Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption.

(Excerpt from News Story on Chris Munce)

REPORTER: Munce was one of seven people arrested after an investigation Hong Kong’s corruption watchdog the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Those detained included four suspected illegal bookmakers. ICAC alleges Munce either recieved or stood to receive almost $300,000 in exchange for tips he provided.

(End excerpt)

JOHN SCHRECK: In the Munce case, he was deemed to be an employee of the owner of the horse, and he was selling that information to others for profit and therefore was in breach of the law of the land. And went to jail for it.

NICK MCKENZIE: Was that a harsh penalty?

JOHN SCHRECK: Oh no, not at all in my opinion, not at all. No, he knew what the situation was when he went there, as all of them do that go there. And you do the crime, you do the time.

NICK MCKENZIE: Chris Munce was convicted and served 20 months in jail. The Hong Kong Jockey Club gave him an additional suspension which should have prevented him from riding anywhere in the world for almost a year after his release.

But New South Wales racing authorities allowed him back on the track with 10 months of his suspension still to run.

JOHN SCHRECK: The penalty wasn’t reciprocated by Racing New South Wales, it was by all the other states of Australia but not by Racing New South Wales. And so he was allowed to ride back in Australia pretty well straight away. The whole thing was most unfortunate, it should never have happened that way.

NICK MCKENZIE: Without the investigative backup enjoyed by their Hong Kong counterparts, in 2010 Victorian racing authorities were forced to ask again for police help.

Stewards suspected that Danny Nikolic was breaching the rules of racing by passing inside information about his mounts.

Four Corners can reveal that, once again, the Victoria Police declined to help, and left the stewards to go it alone.

REPORTER (2010): Authorities were alerted to Nikolic’s activities after suspicious bets were placed with the betting exchange, Betfair, which allows punters to bet on horses losing.

DANNY NIKOLIC (2010): Good mornnig everybody. I’m here to clear my name.

NICK MCKENZIE: The racing disciplinary board found there was insufficient evidence to prove the charges against Danny Nikolic and he was cleared.

DANNY NIKOLIC (to press, 2010): I was quietly confident, I know that I’ve done nothing wrong. So I was just hoping that the RAV (Racing Association of Victoria) board would see it my way. And I’m very happy now.

NICK MCKENZIE: Were the racing authorities correct to bring the case given they lost?

SAL PERNA: Ah yes, I think that was clearly vindicated by the Appeals and Disciplinary Board. When they heard the charges. The circumstantial evidence if you like, was very, very strong and the Board said that they were very justified in preparing that case.

INTERVIEWER: What couldn’t the racing authorities get in terms of evidence and why couldn’t they get it?

SAL PERNA: Look I think it’s fair to say that the content of the conversations between Danny and the people that were putting the bet on was the, the missing part.

SAL PERNA (to co-investigator): Which is the horse we’re looking at Paul.

PAUL: We’re looking at the one that’s second from the inside out of what we’ll call there barrier five. If you just watch the action of the jockey this should pretty well explain what I was talking about earlier.

NICK MCKENZIE: Sal Perna is Victoria’s full-time Racing Integrity Commissioner, a role created as a result of the Lewis report.

It’s the first appointment of its type in the country.

SAL PERNA (to co-investigator): So is he allowing himself to get boxed in there?

NICK MCKENZIE: While Sal Perna enjoys only limited investigative powers of his own, he’s been striving to get police and racing officials to work together.

(Question): Did you find when you first arrived that the police were sitting on information about corruption in racing that was not being passed to racing authorities and vice versa?

SAL PURNA: Yeah, I think that’s a fair comment.

Part of the difficulty with police releasing information is that some information’s protected by legislation, telephone intercepts for example. And that information can’t be given to non-law enforcement areas.

NICK MCKENZIE: Unbeknown to Sal Perna, a new controversy featuring some familiar names was just around the corner.

After the death of Les Samba early last year, Danny Nikolic continued riding, knowing he was under police scrutiny.

On the 12th of April homicide detectives raided the home of his brother John, a former horse trainer based on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Two weeks later, Danny Nikolic was here at Cranbourne preparing for his ride on Smoking Aces.

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): Racing… great line out, Tycoon …

NICK MCKENZIE: The race favourite was Retaliate.

(Footage of race plays)

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): .. back on the fence… Retaliate has got horses all around him .. he’s last…

NICK MCKENZIE: Also riding in the race was jockey Mark Zahra on Baikal.

Four Corners can reveal that police are investigating whether Nikolic and Zahra had allegedly conspired to reduce Retaliate’s chances of winning, and improving Smoking Aces’ prospect of success.

RACE CALLER (Cranbourne): Smoking Aces wins first up from Retaliate, Dubai Opera third from …

NICK MCKENZIE: Figures linked to the race have alleged to Four Corners that associates of Nikolic had bet heavily on his mount, and that police have recently been quizzing jockeys, trainers and punters about the ride in question.

At a recent race meeting, Four Corners tried to interview Danny Nikolic, who’d just ridden a series of winners.

(at races): Danny I’m Nick McKenzie from Four Corners, We’re not actually here to ask you about today’s race …

DANNY NIKOLIC: Not interested …

NICK MCKENZIE: We’re here to ask you about Smoking Aces Danny. Can I ask you a couple of questions about Smoking Aces?

(Question): Is Danny Nikolic a person of interest in the race fixing investigation?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: As I said it’s a current investigation and we’ll … I can’t comment on that particular phase of it at this stage

NICK MCKENZIE: Jockey Mark Zahra also declined to answer questions about the Cranbourne race.

Racing sources have confirmed to Four Corners that associates of Nikolic in Melbourne and interstate made bets on Smoking Aces that earned them a combined total of up to $200,000.

(On phone) G’day Paul my name’s Nick McKenzie, reporter for Four Corners, ABC TV. I’m investigating certain race which I believe you had something to do with Cranbourne last year involving ride of Smoking Aces, can I ask you a few questions about that?

Four Corners tried to speak with one punter linked to the win.

(Hanging up phone): No he’s hung up

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: We know that there are a number of identities that we need to talk to interstate and bits and pieces. But at this particular stage we’re concentrating on Victoria. But there are a number of areas that we know, what we need to have a look at.

Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan is overseeing the police inquiry into the alleged race fixing and the Samba murder.

He’s revealed to Four Corners he’s called in Purana to tackle the fresh allegations of corruption.

GERRY RYAN: We’ll leave no stone unturned. So that means we’ll look at a number of races and you know and a number of areas that unfold as the investigation goes. But it’s important to, at the end of this investigation, to make sure that the integrity in racing here in Victoria and nationally is squeaky clean.

NICK MCKENZIE: Whatever the outcome of that investigation, the former head of Purana, Jim O’Brien, says authorities are yet to prove they can effectively combat corruption in sport.

(Question): How good has that job of protecting the integrity of racing been in your view?

JIM O’BRIEN: It’s not been good at all. It’s been extremely poor and in part brought about because you know the stewards themselves who look after those codes haven’t got the teeth – they’re not investigators for a start.

NICK MCKENZIE: But Gerry Ryan says authorities in Victoria have learned from the mistakes of the past.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: Look, yes we can say that we did take our eye off the ball. And that’s why Purana is so strong today because we we realised that we needed to get back into this arena and we have.

NICK MCKENZIE: And those who say that the police will never be able to to catch a race fix they’re not up to the task?

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: Well that’s what they said about the gangland slayings and what, what’s happened there? We’ve put them all behind bars.

NICK MCKENZIE: Victoria’s racing integrity chief, Sal Perna, says that even if state police and racing officials get it right, if the rest of the country doesn’t follow suit, it will be for nothing.

(Question): If you’re a jockey in Victoria at the moment, you know, you can go interstate and possible have far less scrutiny over your activities.

SAL PERNA: Yes, I would agree with that.

INTERVIEWER: How unhealthy is that?

SAL PERNA: Well, it can’t be good. It creates vulnerabilities and we don’t want that. We want the same standard to apply when it comes to integrity right across the board.

In New South Wales, two harness racing stewards and a trainer are facing criminal charges over alleged corruption.

The state’s greyhound racing industry also has a history tainted by scandal.

Last year the New South Wales government appointed former ombudsman David Landa, to oversee the integrity of both racing codes.

But within months he quit both posts, believing his role amounted to window dressing.

DAVID LANDA, FORMER NSW INTEGRITY AUDITOR: I felt that apart from the role being ineffective and not capable of performing what I felt the legislators may have intended. It was a fiction and it was a fraud really on the public.

NICK MCKENZIE: A fraud on the public?

DAVID LANDA: Yes because they were led to believe that there was an integrity auditor capable of dealing with issues that ought to be dealt with, matters of integrity, matters of honesty, matters of fair dealing and that those powers were not able to be performed.

NICK MCKENZIE: In the new world of internet betting, people can bet to win or lose, and on any number of other outcomes in almost any sport, anywhere.

SAL PERNA: They create opportunities for people to corrupt players, to do certain things that they can benefit from by betting on. We’ve also got a new model now with betting exchanges where you can actually bet on an animal to lose, and that hasn’t been part of the Australian culture today. So they do present challenges.

NICK MCKENZIE: The explosion of internet and exotic betting has sparked debate about the policing of sport across the country.

JOHN SCHRECK: horse racing’s not too bad, there are things go on that’s simply inexcusable, of course there are. But generally speaking it’s not too bad. So I don’t there’s any need for any national integrity controller all over the sport, no. I think the States should be left to their own device, that’s the way it’s been for 150 years and I think it’s been pretty good.

NICK MCKENZIE: Does there need to be a national body?

SAL PERNA: I think there does so that we can work together on it and address issues not only nationally but internationally. It’s about bringing in specialists that are, specialist investigators, specialist analysts and wagering analysts, and bringing in all the bodies together so they can share information and work out how to do it in a concerted way.

JOHN SILVESTER: The iron law of crime is where there is a demand there will be a supply. As soon as a Tony Mokbel is locked up there is someone else to take their place. So it’s about getting the structures right with racing because right now there would be somebody somewhere chatting to a jockey trying to get some inside information. And if he’s got a pocketful of drug money, then he’s got a better chance of getting the answer he wants to hear.

NICK MCKENZIE: Tony Mokbel is now serving a 30 year prison sentence for drug trafficking, but there’s another Mokbel still on the punt.

His brother Horty, another convicted drug trafficker, has been banned from racetracks and the casino by order of the Victorian government.

But over several weeks Four Corners observed him and a group of fellow punters in tracksuits placing numerous bets at a suburban Melbourne TAB.

Horty Mokbel’s regular companions include underworld identity and racehorse owner Paul Sequenzia.

Sequenzia, the brother in law of murdered gangster Mark Moran, had drug trafficking charges dropped in 2004.

Sequenzia is part-owner of a horse called Em Maguane, in 2009 it became one of the first horses in Australia to test positive for the performance enhancing drug EPO (Erythropoietin).

In the racing world, Tony Mokbel’s place is most likely already filled.

JIM O’BRIEN: There’s plenty of succession planning in criminal organisations and someone else will just step up and fill his shoes. So it won’t go away.

JOHN SILVESTER: Now it’s not just a matter of Tony Mokbel or Bob Trimbole but it could be a crime syndicate from anywhere in the world who could target a sport, one game, one event, one cricket match, one over, one ball, and that’s the new challenge.

NICK MCKENZIE: Despite commitments from the federal and state governments, there are still no specific laws dealing with match or race fixing.

Without a national sports integrity body some states and sports remain well behind the others when it comes to confronting the challenge of corruption.

(Question): How urgent are those changes needed?

DES GLEESON: Well, I think they should have been done yesterday but as soon as possible before there’ll be an almighty scandal in sport in Australia.

NICK MCKENZIE: That scandal may have already arrived.

The fallout from Les Samba’s murder and allegations of corruption at the highest levels in racing still has a long way to run.

DETECTIVE SUPERINTENDANT GERARD RYAN: Certainly I believe that if we we’re able to solve the race fixing and solve the issues that that are emerging, we will certainly solve the murder.

INTERVIEWER: Are you confident the murder of Les Samba will be solved?

GERRY RYAN: I’m confident it will be solved, yes.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Four Corners asked jockeys Danny Nikolic and Mark Zahra on the allegations raised by they both declined.

Bookie, Frank Hudson, and jockey, Jim Cassidy, also declined to be interviewed.

Four Corners also asked trainer Peter Moody to talk about his dealings with Horte Mokbel; he also declined.

End of transcript

Background Information


Top racing figures embroiled in corruption scandal | ABC News | 6 Aug 2012 – Police are investigating a string of top Australian horse racing figures, including champion jockey Danny Nikolic, for alleged race fixing, in what is shaping up as the biggest corruption scandal to hit the sport in decades. By Nick McKenzie, Clay Hichens and Richard Baker.

Police offer $1m reward over Samba murder | ABC News | 6 Aug 2012 – Victoria Police have offered a $1 million reward for information about the death of racing identity Les Samba… Purana Taskforce detectives are leading the investigation and believe it was not a random shooting.

$1 million reward announced – Les Samba murder | Vic Police | 6 Aug 2012 – Victoria Police has today announced a $1 million reward for information regarding the death of Les Samba in Middle Park on Sunday 27 February, 2011. Read the press release.


Purana Taskforce Affidavit | Oct 2007 – The Supreme Court affidavit lodged by the Purana Taskforce relating to the seizure of the racehorse Pillar of Hercules. [PDF 530Kb]

Own motion investigation into Greyhound Racing Victoria | Victorian Ombudsman | Jun 2012 – The Victorian Ombudsman, Mr George Brouwer, tabled this report in Parliament in June. Download the report here. [PDF 334Kb]

Combating serious crime and corruption in sport | ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security | Nov 2011 – This paper details the actual and potential challenges, and impact, of gambling and corruption practices on sports in Australia.

Threats to the integrity of professional sport in Australia | Australian Crime Commission | Apr 2011 – Organised criminal groups currently have a limited presence in professional sports in Australia. However, there are vulnerabilities within the sector, with the principal threat to the integrity of professional sports being the use of inside information. A report from the ACC.

Sports Betting Review – Report and Government Response | 31 Mar 2011 – The report of the 2011 Review of Victorian Sports Betting Regulation completed by Mr Des Gleeson and the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Review are on the Department of Justice website.

A Guide to the Racing Industry in Australia 2010-2011 | ARB – The 2010/11 edition of the Australian Racing Fact Book was published by the ARB in December 2011. [PDF 2.73 MB]

Productivity Commission Gambling Inquiry | 23 Jun 2010 – The Productivity Commission concluded a public inquiry into gambling in June 2010. Read submissions and the full report.

Australian Racing Board Submission | 23 Jun 2010 - Read the ARB’s submission to the Productivity Commission Gambling Inquiry. [PDF 1506Kb]

Report on Integrity Assurance in the Victorian Racing Industry (Lewis Report) | Aug 2008 – In March 2008, Judge Gordon Lewis was commissioned to consult with racing industry controlling bodies and stakeholders with the objective of identifying options to ensure that integrity assurance within the industry is of the highest standard. Judge Lewis met with representatives from the major racing codes, police, media, government, industry associations and committees, appellate bodies, veterinary groups, individuals, and wagering companies. Read his recommendations.


Dogs for revamp on bets at work | The Age | 21 Jun 2012 – Victoria’s greyhound racing industry will be overhauled after an inquiry found that some of the sport’s top officials engaged in punting on races and awarding multimillion-dollar contracts without due process. By Nick McKenzie.

Former dogs-racing boss placed bets, mismanaged | The Age | 20 Jun 2012 – Nick McKenzie Victoria’s top greyhound racing official engaged in inappropriate conduct by betting on races during his lunch breaks and overseeing sub-standard multi-million dollar contracts, according to a report. By Nick McKenzie.

Greyhound Racing NSW makes new Greyhound Racing Integrity Auditor | Australian Racing Greyhound | 7 Jun 2012 – GRNSW today announced the appointment of Graham Gorrie to the position of Greyhound Racing Integrity Auditor.

Video: Harness racing under scrutiny | 7.30 | 23 Aug 2011 - Claims of corruption have surfaced in the world of harness racing, sparking an investigation into more than 20 drivers, trainers and owners.

Opinion: Rogue operators make battle to maintain integrity of sport more difficult | The Australian | 16 Jul 2011 – This has been a chilling week for Australian sport. Its exposure to manipulation by cheats and criminals has been shown to be raw and dangerous. Corruption is but a few strokes on the computer away. By Patrick Smith.

Report finds organised horse racing industry is tainted by organised crime | Stateline Victoria | 15 Aug 2008 – The transcript of Josephine Cafagna’s 2008 report into horse racing corruption.

Top jockey took Mokbel cash in return for tips | Brisbane Times | 14 Jun 2008 – One of Australia’s leading jockeys, Jimmy Cassidy, accepted bundles of cash from alleged crime boss Tony Mokbel in return for tips about horses he was riding. By Nick McKenzie.

Fine Cotton mastermind scandal | The Daily Telegraph | 18 Apr 2008 – The mastermind of the infamous Fine Cotton Affair has struck again, with a multi-million dollar scam involving a $44 million horse race, a Gold Coast nightclub singer, a former rugby league great, an art swindle and Muslim terrorist death threats.

The day Munce had his meeting with destiny | SMH | 2 Mar 2007 – Chris Munce had one more appointment in Hong Kong before returning home to Australia in July. It was an appointment the Melbourne Cup-winning jockey wasn’t going to miss, but it would result in Munce’s life being up-ended.


Own Goal | 8 Sep 2011 – The story behind Australia’s failed bid to host the World Cup and the impact it’s having on the beautiful game. Watch online.

In a Fix | 25 Oct 2010 – An investigation into the allegations of corruption and match fixing in the multi-billion dollar sport of international cricket. Flash Video Presentation.

50 Years: Horses for Courses | 10 Nov 1986 – Tony Jones’s 1986 report on racing, politics and the police prompted defamation charges. Watch online.

Protecting the integrity of racing

August 7, 2012

ONE WOULD be hard pressed to name a more symbiotic commercial relationship than that of betting and horse racing. Each derives huge financial benefit from the other. So it is, then, a matter of concern when that relationship is called into question through allegations of corruption.

The Age yesterday – in conjunction with Four Corners last night – reported that police were investigating well-known horse racing figures, including jockey Danny Nikolic, over the alleged fixing of a race at Cranbourne in April 2011, which was won by the horse Smoking Aces. The alleged tampering was uncovered during an investigation into the murder two months earlier of trainer Les Samba in Melbourne. There is no suggestion that Nikolic was involved in the death of Samba. There are, however, serious issues at play, such as allegations of money laundering, tax fraud and tipping, which involves jockeys disclosing inside information for commission.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said yesterday there was no endemic corruption in horse racing. But, in an industry that must be seen to be conducted without the merest whiff of corruption, this is a case where one is one too many.

More than 4000 horse races are held annually in this state. Racing Victoria, in its report for 2010-2011, said that although 9000 horses had competed, ”the headlines were stolen by one horse, Black Caviar”.

This is true. But, as The Age has revealed more than once, there is more than one story to the industry, and those ones sow the seeds of doubts in the public’s mind as to the probity of what they are watching. Detective Superintendent Gerard Ryan, who confirmed the investigation, said it was important ”that the integrity of racing … is squeaky clean”.

It is towards this latter point that, more broadly, Victoria seems to be making progress. There is a police ”sport corruption response model”, which looks promising on paper. The proof will be in its results.

It would be naive to believe that all sport can be entirely clean. With such large amounts of money at stake, the temptation to cheat is always there. That being so, there is merit in the calls for a national body, with anti-corruption powers, to be established to maintain sport’s integrity.

Commenting on the Smoking Aces disclosures, Racing Victoria’s integrity commissioner, Sal Perna, said: ”My immediate response is, is the industry that bad?” Purely on the numbers, no. Yet integrity in sport is only as strong as its weakest link. It needs to be protected comprehensively by all governments.





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Prison officers arrested on drug trafficking ring with crims at Barwon Prison

This comes as no surprise actually folks but the ramifications will be wide and far…MORE TO COME

UPDATE 11/07/12

EXCLUSIVE: KILLER bikie Christopher Wayne Hudson and one of Australia’s most feared hitmen were allegedly able to run a drug ring with corrupt guards inside Victoria’s most secure jail.


Three Barwon Prison officers were arrested during raids in Geelong and the northern suburbs yesterday, after an eight-month investigation. Two have since been charged with drug offences.

Sources close to the operation claim one of the guards, a 40-year-old man from Grovedale, had formed a close relationship with the two killers and had been monitored having long conversations in their cells, as well as passing notes and other items under their doors.

Authorities are also concerned about information passed between the cells and out of the prison.

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Charlie Bezzina: Risk of mixing with the dark side

Barwon Prison security faces fierce scrutiny

Hudson, a Hells Angel, is serving a minimum of 35 years in jail over the 2007 CBD shootings of father of three Brendan Keilar, who died, and Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard.

The contract killer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is serving 32 years for the murders of Dorothy and Ramon Abbey in 1987.

Charges against him over the murders of police informers Terence and Christine Hodson were dropped.

The veteran trigger man is linked to some of Australia’s most infamous underworld figures and is suspected of multiple murders.

Last night a 40-year-old Grovedale man was charged with trafficking a drug of dependence, misconduct in public office, possessing an unregistered firearm, possessing a prohibited weapon and possessing and using a drug of dependence, while a 40-year-old Norlane man was charged with possessing and using a drug of dependence.

Both were bailed to appear in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court on 26 September.

A 31-year-old female prison officer from Norlane was interviewed and released pending further inquiries.

A 46-year-old Norlane man and an 18-year-old Delahey man, who were not Corrections Victoria staff, were released pending further inquiries.

Operation Puli, run by Victoria Police drug taskforce detectives, started in November after intelligence was passed on by Corrections Victoria.

Houses were raided in the Geelong area and at Delahey, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, from 7am yesterday.

Cannabis and prescription medication were seized.

Victoria Police acting Deputy Commissioner Jeff Pope said the suspect behaviour was confined to Barwon Prison, the state’s highest-security prison.

“It does seem to be isolated to this core group of prison officers,” Mr Pope said.

“One or two of these guards has formed a relationship with a small group of inmates that is inappropriate.”

Acting Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard said the guards worked across the prison and were not restricted to one particular section

An aerial shot of Barwon Prison WHERE SCREWS HAVE BEEN ARRESTED AMID A drug trafficking RING INSIDE THE PRISON!

UPDATE 3.15PM 10/07/12

Those arrested were a 40-year-old Grovedale man, a 31-year-old Norlane woman, a 41-year-old Norlane man and a 46-year-old Norlane man.

Victoria Police officers swooped on several properties in the Geelong region connected to Barwon Prison from 7am, completing searches a short time ago.

Four prison officers have been arrested as part of an ongoing investigation by police and Corrections Victoria which has linked guards to inmates.

PRISON officers accused of running a drug trafficking ring with criminals have been arrested in a series of co-ordinated raids.

Victoria Police officers swooped on several properties in the Geelong region connected to Barwon Prison from 7am, completing searches a short time ago.

The Herald Sun understands four prison officers have been arrested as part of an ongoing investigation by police and Corrections Victoria which has linked guards to inmates.

Barwon Prison, near Geelong, houses the state’s worst convicted criminals, among them influential organised crime figures.

Gangland killer Evangelos Goussis, drug boss Tony Mokbel, and middle-eastern crime gang members are all housed at Barwon Prison, however no identities of inmates connected to today’s raids have been revealed.

Inappropriate relationships between staff and inmates at Corrections Victoria’s jail are considered a major security risk.

Staff at Barwon came under unprecedented levels of scrutiny following the death of  Carl Williams.

More to come …

Have criminals got it TOO good in jail?

Every now and then I get a news item or a report on the telly that really spikes my attention. Whenever a story about prisoners either whining about conditions (like a paying renter does to a landlord, who actually have legitimate complaints and pay for the right) or an expose’ on what they get and don’t get in jail comes up, I get really frustrated. 

A  list was revealed from the ACACIA UNIT at Barwon prison, a haunt for the major crims in Victoria down the road from me. The other day we had a story about Fat Tony Mokbel, cooking his own food, as he did not LIKE the prison food…I could swear my head off, but I ask others not to so I wont….grrrrr

What happened to porridge for breakfast, some sandwiches for lunch and some meat and 3 veg for dinner. Dessert a few times a week?

I will tell you why, because surely it cannot just be me who thinks “No wonder they go back for more”. For starters, yes it is a sentence and their freedom is taken away, but bloody hell, not much else is. Just consider the savings on rent, electricity, food, clothes, dental, medical, entertainment, EDUCATION and all the books, materials and computers and stuff. Sports, recreation, pool tables, gym (think of the savings on gym membership!) all the legal aid they need. Transport…I could go on.

If one were unfortunate enough to be on the streets, but NOT commit crimes, maybe they should reconsider their career. I am not joking, think about all the benefits versus the negatives. What are they, let me think, ok you are behind 4 walls, and get locked in your room at night. The cost to the taxpayer is massive, and the jail population is growing. I bet my last dollar they grow by returning crooks who just throw the towel in and say it is too tough on the outside I am going back in…I’m better off inside…Some with money, may even think…Gee maybe even rent out my place for 400 a week while im here…leave jail and not pay back one bloody cent, have a nice kitty when I get out. pay the victim nothing either…I’m a mere poor prisoner…

Driven to court and back, unlimited free calls and correspondence to lawyers etc It makes my blood boil actually. I want the view of all you guys, I’m sure (well I hope) we also get the view from the other side, those who have been in, or have partners on the inside.

I will tell you know, it will take a lot of convincing to tell me that beyond all of the above, these poor people are suffering the lack of freedom etc. Well that IS the point of it all, the committed crimes, and suffer the consequences, my point is most Aussies would have no ides how generous these consequences are! Cheers Robbo

Barwon Prison in Victoria, which contains Victoria’s worst criminals

THE state’s most dangerous criminals are enjoying cut-price junk food and luxury items in our most secure prison.

While working families are struggling to meet grocery bills, our most heinous inmates jailed at Barwon Prison, including serial killers Peter Dupas and Paul Denyer, are living on discount smoked oysters, ice cream, popcorn and cheese.

The Herald Sun has matched prices at an inner-city supermarket chain with the Barwon Prison canteen, finding prisoners are saving up to 22 per cent compared with average consumers.

Overall, 16 items of a basket of 22 were cheaper at the Barwon Prison one-stop shop. The items were taken from 267 listed products available to prisoners.

The biggest win for the crooks was for John West Temptations, a mega-saving of a dollar from a supermarket price of $2.36.

Prisoners were also able to buy Mint Slices for $2.23, well under the supermarket price of $3.10, while Tim Tams were 10c cheaper than the going rate.

Other cut-price items at Barwon canteen included a 25-cent saving on Coon cheese, a 50c cut on a Gillette Mach 3 razor and a pack of Salada crackers down 35c.

But it wasn’t all red-spot specials for the bad guys.

Delicious Chocolate Royals were 20c up on the supermarket, Lipton tea (50s) 12c higher, baked beans 26c dearer while Palmolive shampoo was a rip off at the canteen, with a marked price of $5.41, 42c higher.

A Corrections Victoria spokesman said prison shops were run by each prison and no profit was made.

He said products were purchased directly by the prison, usually at wholesale prices.

“They are allowed to a purchase a basic range of items such as telephone credit, toiletries or food products in limited quantities from the prison shop,” the spokesman said.

“Prisoners pay for these themselves at no cost to the taxpayer.”

RMIT criminal justice advocate Peter Norden said people should be questioning the cost of building and staffing more prisons for more inmates – which is estimated at $500,000 a cell – rather than the price of food.

“They can get cheaper food in the prisons because it’s an expanding population,” he said, tongue in cheek.

“They can buy in bulk.”

Pam Greenbury, the mother of murder victim Tracey, said prisoners should not be getting sweets or any other luxury item, let alone at a discount.

“I wouldn’t like our daughter’s murderer to get any luxuries,” Mrs Greenbury said.

“Luxuries at a discounted price? I’d say no.”

Gangland hitman Sean Sonnet jailed for second time over kill plot

Finally the case is closed on one of the final hit-men from the Melbourne Gangland wars. After getting a retrial he has been sentenced again although for a shorter time. Both he and fat Tony Mokbel ( For other offences) attempted to get their earlier pleas changed to not guilty over the swearing of Affidavits debacle by the VIC POLICE.

Thankfully that stuff up has been rectified and they got nowhere through retrospective legislation.We could of had thousands of cases having to be reheard and charges dropped  etc.

CAREER criminal who was snared by police moments before he was about to murder underworld figure Mario Condello was today jailed for seven-and-a-half years.

Sean Jason Sonnet, who has been found guilty of conspiring to kill Mario Condello

Justice Lex Lasry told Sean Sonnet that despite his 45 prior convictions and long history of violence he was not “beyond redemption” and he said authorities should consider him for parole when his minimum term expires.

Justice Lasry said the “hit” arose out of a relationship Sonnet had with drug lord and underworld figure Carl Williams, Gregg Hildebrand and another man, Michael Thorneycroft.

The four men plotted to kill their target and Sonnet was to be the shooter.

The judge said Sonnet was arrested on June 9, 2004 outside the Brighton cemetery near Condello’s home by Special Operations Group officers and they found a 9mm Luger Beretta down the front of his pants and a .38 Smith and Wesson revolver in a bum bag. Both were full loaded and ready to go.

9mm Luger Beretta

”The plan in which you were involved and in which you were to be the person who would kill the target of the agreement, was a callous and planned conspiracy,” Justice Lasry said in his Supreme Court sentence.

“You were on the verge of putting the plan into effect by shooting a person you thought was the target.”

Sonnet, 42, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder after he won a retrial and after denying for years that he intended to kill anyone.

He has a history of violence in jail against fellow inmates and warders.

Justice Lasry said that because of the death of a witness the Crown had agreed that the “hit” was on an unknown person although it was accepted at his first trial that the target was Condello.

“In many respects that matters little because what is important is that this was an agreement to kill another human being,” Justice Lasry said.

When he was sentenced after his first conspiracy trial, Justice Betty King described Sonnet as a “gun for hire” who was recruited by Williams during the gangland war to cold-bloodedly murder Condello for payment of between $120,000 and $145,000.

Eventually Shot dead: Melbourne underworld figure Mario Condello was killed in February 2006

Justice Lasry said Sonnet embarked on a life of crime while he was still a teenager and had spent a substantial period of the past 20 years in jail.

Sean Sonnet leaving the Supreme Court during his trial

The judge said the effect of his sentence was that because of time already served Sonnet will have just under three years before he is eligible for parole.

Justice Lasry set a maximum term of 10-and-a-half years.

Tony Mokbel-Media frenzy

The famous wig photo, they put it on his head sideways for effect!

Well you might wonder why I haven’t  rushed to get this story up, and to be honest,  these poor journo’s who have been hanging on to ridiculous suppression orders have been busting to let it all hang out…

Like a Geelong supporter after a win at the MCG on the Geelong freeway for an hour on the way home!

I have nothing new to add, but have some great insight into the drama of the Fat Guy over the years. I had a fair bit to do with him in the late 90’s, but I will let the frenzy die down a bit and then update.

Extensive background to follow next few days…Need to stop laughing at the media coverage first!