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Tony Mokbel: Up a legal creek without a paddle

We have already had a documentary, two dramas are on the production line (Illegally Blonde? Waiting for Gobbo?) with books and podcasts ready to roll. Next will surely be the musical – Nicky Get Your Gun? Nicola Queen of the Deserters? or the classic Shitty Shitty Bang Bang.

For Tony, a career punter who was at one stage investing $20,000 a week in Tattslotto, the chance has come to invest in a long shot. If he can convince the courts he didn’t get a fair deal when he pleaded guilty to drug offences in 2011, maybe he can limbo his way out of prison – after all, it is a free roll of the dice, right?

Tony Mokbel has had his day in court. He shouldn't want another.

Tony Mokbel has had his day in court. He shouldn’t want another.Credit:Andrew De La Rue

Wrong.

You see Faruk Orman always maintained he was not involved in the murder of Victor Peirce, who was shot dead in May 2002 in Bay Street, Port Melbourne. The key prosecution witness was a senior gangland figure who did a deal when he was charged with an underworld murder. Gobbo was part of his legal team and later was Orman’s barrister.

(The key witness also made a statement implicating Gobbo in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice involving the Mokbels and this was a major reason the lawyer eventually turned informer – to protect herself from possible prosecution.)

The major difference in the two cases is simple. Faruk always said he didn’t do it and should never have gone to jail. Tony says he did do it but he would never have admitted it if he knew his one-time lawyer was ratting on him.

If Tony thinks he can disappear if his convictions are quashed, then his recent bang on the head from a prison bashing has damaged his thought process. Not only has he forgotten that he pleaded guilty, he also doesn’t remember there is a truckload of statements, recordings and forensic evidence that has not been presented against him.

Sitting somewhere in the Victoria Police Crime Command is a fat file called Kayak that could lead to Tony being caught up a creek without a legal paddle.

Because he pleaded guilty, he was given a sentencing discount – 30 years with a minimum of 22 – with the judge saying that without his admission of guilt he would have been given life.

We can reveal that behind closed doors Mokbel only agreed to plead guilty to charges from three separate investigations – codenamed Orbital, Quills and Magnum – on the condition that the much bigger charges from Kayak were shelved. He was sentenced over 45 kilograms of drugs. Kayak involved an importation 12 times that size.

Nicola Gobbo and her one-time client, Tony Mokbel, in happier days.

Nicola Gobbo and her one-time client, Tony Mokbel, in happier days.Credit:ninevms

Standing in the Supreme Court, Mokbel suggested he had seen the error of his ways and deeply regretted going down such a dark path.

His psychologist, Wendy Northey, told Justice Simon Whelan that Mokbel wanted to issue a “heartfelt and genuine apology”. He told her: “I have a lot of making up to do. I won’t be going anywhere near drugs again. I feel saddened by it all now. Dealing in drugs was definitely wrong.”

Now it would appear he only regretted getting caught.

Justice Whelan was in no doubt: “Drug trafficking was your business. It was your area of expertise. It was your career,” adding Mokbel had shown “an arrogant contempt for the law, and an incorrigible determination to persist in serious business-like drug trafficking regardless of the circumstances.”

Those in the know say there is no chance Mokbel’s conviction will be overturned but if it were, police would dust off the Kayak file and he could be re-charged before he could open the minibar in a five-star hotel.

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After all, he was charged with these offences in August 2001, long before Gobbo became a Purana Taskforce informer – indeed, Purana had not even been established.

This time prosecutors would be calling for a life term. So let’s go back to a time before Tony Mokbel was a household name.

Asset bloodhound Detective Sergeant Jim Coghlan identified Mokbel’s black portfolio – then valued at around $15 million, that included shops, cafes, fashion labels, fragrances, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and land in regional Victoria. He owned two vans, two Commodores, a red Audi, a new silver Mercedes, a Nissan Skyline and a red Ferrari roadster he bought in September 1999. He owned 14 properties in Brunswick, three in Boronia, two in Kilmore (a horse stud and a pub) and one each in Coburg, Pascoe Vale and Templestowe.

The final audit showed the syndicate was making $500,000 a week and had a total turnover of $400 million, with police recovering $55 million in assets.

Tony Mokbel's Ferrari, seized in 2001 as part of Operation Kayak.

Tony Mokbel’s Ferrari, seized in 2001 as part of Operation Kayak.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Kayak established Mokbel was a drug importer and manufacturer of epic proportions and the CEO of a massive illicit network dubbed The Company.

On September 4, 2000, The Company ordered a container filled with ceramics from a Serbian company, with 550 kilograms of ephedrine hidden inside. Fingerprints on the order forms would later be matched to Mokbel’s brother Milad.

Tony was brought down by a double agent, but not Gobbo. It was informer 4/320 – a charismatic Melbourne man well known in certain celebrity circles.

Initially the Mokbels supplied him with six ounces of cocaine and 5000 ecstasy tablets, and that was just an appetiser.

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In a Melbourne car park on October 20, 2000, Mokbel told “Joe” (4/320) he had 20,000 ecstasy tablets for sale and was expecting a further 500,000-tab shipment. He also declared he had top-quality speed that could be cut at a ratio of one part speed to 25 parts filler because “it’s Tony Mokbel’s gear”.

A few days later he was secretly recorded saying a consignment of cocaine would arrive any day and Joe could buy a kilo. Joe paid Mokbel $103,000 of police undercover money for the drugs. All up $170,000 of police money was used to buy Mokbel products.

Again this was no big deal to Mokbel, because he had another shipment – 350,000 ecstasy pills – due in about six weeks. He also had 80,000 LSD tablets up for grabs.

On November 6, Tony rang his main distributor to tell him the Serbian container had arrived. The code was “that girl is waiting for you”, a code as ephedrine and pseudo-ephedrine are known as “Susie”.

Stashed in a consignment of bargain-basement toilets, the Serbian container held drugs with a black market value of $20 million. But it could be used to produce 40 million designer pills with a street value of $2 billion.

The container was shipped to Mokbel’s heartland in Coburg. Mokbel told Joe he transported the chemicals to a bush safe haven. Wherever he stashed it he did a thorough job, because it has never been found.

Kayak investigators declared the chemicals were imported in 22 tubs, each containing 25 kilos of ephedrine. Mokbel sold one for $500,000 and planned to move another to cover the shipment cost. Joe posed as a potential buyer and was given a 27.2-gram sample. Forensic testing on the sample matched ephedrine traces in a toilet in the container. Drug swipes also proved positive in five of the eight bowls and basins examined.

The container was located in a Coburg warehouse controlled by Milad Mokbel. The toilets and basins were transported to a property site in Sunbury, where Tony Mokbel was investing in building a block of units, but were later judged to be of inferior quality and destroyed.

There were hundreds of telephone and face-to-face conversations captured with Mokbel buying and selling drugs and chemicals, discussing amphetamine cooks and accessing pill presses. None of this had anything to do with Gobbo.

The evidence was overwhelming. So why wasn’t it put before the court when Mokbel was finally grabbed in August 2001?

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That was because Joe saw some in the then Drug Squad were corrupt and blew the whistle, resulting in three detectives being charged – which meant the Mokbel case was put on hold until they were prosecuted (all three were jailed).

The federal cocaine importation charges did proceed in 2006 and Mokbel was convicted after he jumped bail and fled to Greece.

If Tony thinks he can row away from his past on a technicality he should know that if that happened he would be hit with a tidal wave of new charges. Sometimes you need to be careful what you wish for.

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