Lawyer X

In­side Vic­to­ria’s le­gal scan­dal

The West Australian - - INSIDE COVER -

As a child­care com­mit­tee pres­i­dent, Lawyer X is “skilled and self­less”. A mum of two, her tire­less work saved a kinder­garten from closing three years ago.

So goes a ci­ta­tion in Septem­ber for the woman at the cen­tre of the le­gal storm en­gulf­ing Vic­to­ria.

She re­ceived a Premier’s award for her vol­un­teer work; to many peo­ple’s sur­prise, given death threats against her over the years, she turned up for the cer­e­mony and beamed for the me­dia cam­eras.

As a gang­land lawyer, she pre­sented a tougher side. Sharp and de­fi­ant, she shred­ded un­pre­pared po­lice of­fi­cers.

Un­der­world king­pins such as Carl Wil­liams and Tony Mok­bel were not only clients, they were friends, too. At the chris­ten­ing of Wil­liams’ daugh­ter Dhakota in 2003, Lawyer X com­manded the stage with the proud dad.

As a po­lice in­former, she pre­sented yet an­other side. And here we delve into lay­ered mo­ti­va­tions and psy­chol­ogy that no one, from school­mates to clients to po­lice of­fi­cers, feels qual­i­fied to as­sess.

They knew her, yes, but they do not claim to un­der­stand her. In this role, too, as in­former 3838, her work ethic was un­ques­tioned, if not her pro­fes­sional ethics.

Lawyer X fur­nished Vic­to­ria Po­lice with 5500 in­for­ma­tion re­ports and 128 con­tact vis­its in five years as an of­fi­cial in­former. She was hid­den, in plain sight, in an au­da­cious sub­terfuge that has now ex­ploded as the big­gest cri­sis in Vic­to­ria’s le­gal his­tory.

Premier Daniel An­drews an­nounced a royal com­mis­sion into the scan­dal on Mon­day af­ter it was re­vealed that the con­vic­tions of some of the na­tion’s big­gest crim­i­nals might be tainted be­cause po­lice used a de­fence bar­ris­ter as an in­for­mant.

Lawyer X her­self claims her in­for­ma­tion led to the ar­rest and charg­ing of at least 386 peo­ple when she turned in­former in 2003 at the height of Melbourne’s gang­land war.

The war had started in 1998. A city would be cap­ti­vated, a po­lice force con­founded; to this day, most of the gang­land deaths — al­most three dozen deep — re­main of­fi­cially un­solved.

The crim­i­nals hop­ing to walk from prison or see their jail sen­tences dras­ti­cally cut in­clude drug baron Tony Mok­bel and other mem­bers of his em­pire called The Com­pany — Rob Karam, who is serv­ing 37 years for drug im­por­ta­tion, Cal­abrian mafia boss Pasquale Bar­baro and out­law bikie gang head John Higgs.

The facts are re­mark­able, the ru­mours so ex­ces­sive that they would be scrubbed as silly if the TV se­ries comes to be writ­ten. Who has the breadth to play so many guises? In­valid and il­lu­sion­ist. Mother and Machi­avel­lian mer­ce­nary. Shapeshifter and sur­vivor — with a scor­pion’s st­ing.

If Lawyer X was tight with the big­gest crim­i­nals, she was tighter with the top cops who wanted to jail them.

The vil­lains shot each other in front of chil­dren. There was tor­ture, burn­ings and the odd body stuffed in a wheelie bin.

Lawyer X dined with the crooks and had her photo taken with them. Tales say she moth­ered a child to a drug traf­ficker and was en­gaged to a drug cook. Yet she de­ceived them, too. She turned them on one an­other. She shared their se­crets with the po­lice who itched to put them away.

But the ex­tent of her du­plic­ity re­mained an ex­tra­or­di­nary se­cret, known to few be­yond her po­lice han­dlers, who in­cluded long-time over­seer and one-time top cop Si­mon Over­land.

She was a hid­den mas­ter­stroke in Vic­to­ria Po­lice’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to purge the gang­land swamp. Lawyer X once wanted to be prime minister, in­stead she had to set­tle to be the miss­ing piece in the gang­land puz­zle.

A sea­soned de­tec­tive stum­bled across the Lawyer X enigma when he was asked to take a wit­ness state­ment from her in 2010.

They met in a Bali ho­tel room, and she was play­ing yet an­other (if fa­mil­iar) role — the dif­fi­cult per­son.

Yes, she was happy to be in­ter­viewed, notwith­stand­ing the con­stant breaks for cof­fee and cig­a­rettes. Be­tween the of­fi­cer and the wit­ness stood a stack of in­former in­tel­li­gence sheets.

“I crossed the line a long time ago,” she said in ex­pla­na­tion. “I’ve been work­ing in the in­ter­ests of Vic­to­ria Po­lice and not my clients.”

Such dan­ger­ous choices con­flict with her priv­i­leged back­ground. She grew up in Melbourne’s leafy in­ner east in a blue-blood le­gal fam­ily. She at­tended an ex­clu­sive pri­vate girls’ school, where she starred in le­gal stud­ies.

A knack for get­ting no­ticed, or what some ob­servers call at­ten­tion-seek­ing, goes back to child­hood, when she wrote let­ters to the ed­i­tor about the plight of gov­ern­ments.

There was a drug bust at her home in the early 1990s but she was not charged.

She par­tied hard, and was at Tun­nel night­club on the night that Colling­wood foot­baller Darren Mil­lane drank, drove home and died in a car ac­ci­dent. Her un­canny prox­im­ity to events would be a sig­na­ture move.

Lawyer X would hawk for Mok­bel’s busi­ness by vis­it­ing him in prison.

But by one po­lice of­fi­cer’s ac­count, she had al­ready es­tab­lished a se­cret rap­port with po­lice. Her mo­ti­va­tion? Dis­gust, ap­par­ently. “I can’t look in the mirror, I can’t stand work­ing for these scum­bags,” the of­fi­cer re­ports her as say­ing.

She says in ev­i­dence re­vealed by the Court of Ap­peal this week that she was ap­proached to be­come a po­lice in­former in

2005, af­ter in­for­mally help­ing de­tec­tives from mid-2003.

She was mo­ti­vated by fear that she would be charged as an ac­ces­sory be­cause she had gained knowl­edge about crimes, she claims.

She wanted to get the “Mok­bel mon­key” off her back.

She was frus­trated by the likes of Carl Wil­liams, the heav­ies who sought to control what sus­pects and wit­nesses could or could not say to po­lice.

A com­pet­ing the­ory goes that she was com­pelled to help po­lice in 2005 af­ter she was recorded on a sur­veil­lance tape pick­ing up a brown pa­per bag near the Melbourne Club on Collins Street.

It should be noted, how­ever, that Lawyer X says she did not ap­proach po­lice to in­form be­cause she had com­mit­ted a crime and needed a “get out of jail card”.

She be­came the po­lice’s se­cret weapon in the gang­land war, speak­ing to her po­lice han­dlers daily for a cou­ple of years. No crim­i­nal, topic or crime was off lim­its.

The re­la­tion­ship was boun­ti­ful: she boasts of at least 386 ar­rests and charges re­sult­ing from her in­form­ing.

Prize among them was drug baron Tony Mok­bel, charged with im­port­ing 2.9kg of co­caine and whom she had al­legedly warned of gang­land mur­der charges, prompt­ing him to flee to Greece in 2006.

“Fat Tony” was caught, ar­rested and brought back to Aus­tralia just over a year later.

One of Mok­bel’s as­so­ciates, Rob Karam, has also been told his con­vic­tion might be tainted. He was sen­tenced to 37 years be­hind bars for his part in the cel­e­brated Tomato Tins in­ves­ti­ga­tion of 2007 that re­sulted in a world record seizure of 15 mil­lion ec­stasy pills con­cealed in cans of the fruit shipped from Naples, Italy.

Lawyer X claimed that $60 mil­lion of as­sets and prop­erty was seized through her in­tel­li­gence.

She turned crim­i­nals against one an­other, cit­ing Wil­liams’ con­vic­tions over four mur­ders. All she re­ceived in re­turn, bar some to­ken thanks, was a pen, she com­plained.

The few who sus­pected the breadth of her du­plic­i­ties won­dered at the tan­gle of con­tra­dic­tions.

Why did she help crim­i­nals, per­haps fall in love with some of them, and yet help put them away, too?

Zarah Garde-Wil­son, a col­league and foe, of­fers as good a guess as any.

“She wanted to be wanted,” she says.

Pic­ture: News Corp

Drug baron Tony Mok­bel looks up with a grin as he ar­rives at court.

Mur­dered killer Carl Wil­liams.

Drug dealer Rob Karam.

Mafia boss Pasquale Bar­baro.

Ec­stasy tablets seized in a raid.

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